Abraham Lincoln’s recent cinematic outings have seen him as a vampire hunter or zombie smasher. Lincoln instead goes for the much more authentic story of his fight against his real enemy; Slavery. It’s not your usual biopic though as it doesn’t tell the full tale of the man’s life, but instead concentrates on the last few months and one of the greatest achievements of his personal and political life; the 13th Amendment to the Constitution resulting in the abolition of slavery.
Lincoln opens well into his career meeting soldiers at the Confederate Union base at Petersburg battlefield two years after the famous Gettysburg Address. He is already a hugely respected man by both white and black soldiers and the opening exchange between himself and some grass roots troops sets the tone for the entire movie. The soldiers are in awe of the President as he speaks and tells a tale in his soft, grandfatherly way. This sets the tone for the rest of the movie, which is largely a succession of Abe’s speeches and amusing anecdotes.
It’s an unusual film if I’m honest. Plot wise it doesn’t really go anywhere per se even though it’s subject matter is of huge importance. Despite being set during the civil war there are no war scenes which is actually quite refreshing in this day and age, as this movie is definitely a character piece. There’s a sub plot of sorts involving the relationship between Abe and his eldest son who wants to sign up and do his part for the war, yet it barely involves a raised voice and kind of just happens as an aside. It’s probably the only real let down of the film that there isn’t much engagement there. Many of the most entertaining scenes take place in Congress as opposing sides argue out the slavery issue. These scenes are easily the most raucous and have some great moments as insults are thrown back an forth.
What makes the movie is Daniel Day Lewis’s performance as the titular President. As ever he throws himself entirely into character and is absolutely convincing in his portrayal of the man. Many a foolish person across the years has tried their own Abe Lincoln impression and is usually left sounding pretty silly. Thankfully he nails it, although admittedly for the first few sentences I found myself waiting with baited breath to see if he would lend gravitas to the portrayal or sound like a drunken uncle at a family party. It’s just as well he manages it as it would be very difficult to take seriously otherwise.
The supporting cast are well worth a mention with Sally Field as Mrs Lincoln and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the aforementioned eldest son although it’s one of his less exciting roles. Of most note though is Tommy Lee Jones’s cantankerous sometime friend and sometime rival to Abe. Their chatter is good, his wit biting, his insulting masterful, and his personal drive and desire to achieve the abolition of slavery is almost palpable. Also of notable mention is the make-up. Despite Sally Field being 11 years the elder, Daniel Day Lewis looks so much older, sporting every wrinkle and worry a life of high stress would imprint on a weathered soul. Plus there are some truly awesome beards.
In the end, the Lincoln pretty much simply tells a story. That may sound like a silly sentence as every movie obviously does, but it’s almost like a history textbook brought to life. You won’t find any popcorn stupidity here, but a classy portrayal of one of the most important men on the planet. Whether you are American or not you cannot deny his accomplishments changed a continent if not the world. I suspect if you are indeed American then this will have your patriotic heart beating double time and you heading straight home to raise the star spangled banner as high as it can go.
Personally I enjoy a good character based film and this ticks all the boxes. Its slow pace means I’m not sure if it’s going into the blu-ray list, but it’s highly recommended regardless.