SIDEWALKS’ Jeanne Powell reviews “Lincoln” starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field.
DREAMWORKS PICTURES/Twentieth Century FOX in association with PARTICIPANT MEDIA
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook and Tommy Lee Jones
Director: Steven Spielberg
Producers: Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy
Steven Spielberg directs two-time Academy Award® winner Daniel Day-Lewis in “Lincoln,” a revealing drama that focuses on the 16th President’s tumultuous final months in office. In a nation divided by war and the strong winds of change, Lincoln pursues a course of action designed to end the war, unite the country and abolish slavery. With the moral courage and fierce determination to succeed, his choices during this critical moment will change the fate of generations to come.
Director Stephen Spielberg’s Oscar-worthy film is adapted from historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2005 best-seller, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.” Tony Kushner’s screenplay is ambitious and successful with a difficult subject and a complex set of ambivalent politicians.
It is January 1865 and starving rebel soldiers begin to desert the southern rebellion. General William Tecumseh Sherman is preparing to march his federal troops through North and South Carolina. And President Abraham Lincoln is doing battle with powerful political enemies and competitors in his cabinet and on Capitol Hill. Keep your friends close, it has been said, and keep your enemies closer. Lincoln knew the wisdom of these words as he presided over a young nation which had to be reunited at all costs.
These men and women during the American Civil War are larger than life today because they lived in such a turbulent era and grappled with historic issues; their actions, reactions and decisions held serious consequences for all who came after them. The veteran cast of “Lincoln” gives us those moments in captivating scenes and compelling performances.
Daniel Day Lewis becomes a Lincoln we can believe – torn and at times tormented but determined to face the issue of slavery as it affected the nation. It is the nation that concerns President Lincoln, whether a country can survive half slave and half free, and if not then what must be done to bring the country together again.
Sally Field would not be everyone’s first choice to play Mary Todd Lincoln, but she wins over the skeptics with her fiery energy and almost maniacal devotion to her troubled husband and to her sons, both the living and the dead. At a White House reception, her barbed banter with her husband’s political opponents in Congress is pointed and funny.
Tommy Lee Jones as the eloquent radical Republican leader, who will lead the “bloody-shirt” Reconstructionists after the murder of President Lincoln, is marvelous as Thaddeus Stevens. Stevens’ views on the abolition of slavery were far to the left of Lincoln and the nation held its breath to see if these two powerful men could compromise. Intrigue, secret meetings, not so gentle conspiracies, and at times hilarious scheming were the order of the day.
Abraham Lincoln loved humorous moments and could tell a good tale with subtlety and wit. The film gives us many such moments from Daniel Day-Lewis. James Spader’s antics as a lower-echelon pol charged with buying votes to guarantee passage of the Thirteenth Amendment provides another brand of humor. Politics has not changed much since then.
There are brief but notable performances from S. Epatha Merkerson as Lydia Smith, the Black widow who is Thaddeus Stevens’ secret wife, and Gloria Reuben as Elizabeth Keckley, housekeeper to Mary Todd Lincoln
“Lincoln” resonates on multiple levels – wrenching battle scenes of hand-to-hand combat; the president visiting troops in the field during a rainstorm; a First Lady still mourning the loss of her middle son; Mary Todd Lincoln raging at her husband to prevent him from allowing their oldest son to enlist in the army; Thaddeus Stevens’ dilemma over whether to support the thirteenth amendment which is weaker than it should be.
Does the U.S. need this amendment at all? Congress has declared war, and the president has special war powers. The Union is winning the war on the battlefield as well. But will there be a legal dilemma once the war ends and the president no longer has such special powers? Can’t we just send “them” back to the African continent? How can “we” live with them once they are free?
A thought-provoking film, “Lincoln” is historic in its presentation of the complex issues and entertaining as we witness the struggle unfold. A definite must-see this season.