Spielberg's "Lincoln"

(PG-13) ★★★★

At first it isn't easy to succumb to Steven Spielberg's Lincoln - its darkly lit, talkative scenes aren't what we are used to getting in a Spielberg movie. The political talk is in every frame, this is a move that is more about dialogue than it is about action. A real shock given that this is a filmmaker known for popcorn entertainments raised to the level of art (Minority Report, Catch Me If You Can, War Of The Worlds). Lincoln is no such beast. It is quietly meditative with no rousing bombast or grand set pieces. The screenplay written by Tony Kushner brings us to 1865 a few weeks before the vote for a 13th amendment - this one would abolish slavery and free African American slaves. President Lincoln tries his damnest to convince Democratic delegates to vote for the amendment. It doesn't help that he is in the middle of a bloody civil war that has taken the lives of close to 600,000 Americans. We only see a glimpse of this war at film's opening, Spielberg is more interested in the war of words than in war itself. If you think this is a biopic of the President think again, this is a film about how the famous 13th amendment got passed.

Abraham Lincoln is slyly played by Daniel Day Lewis in another performance that will be remembered for the ages. His Lincoln is a man of many flaws but with enough heart, soul and drive to push the amendment forward. It has almost come to be a predictable thing to have a great Daniel Day Lewis performance but it is always highly welcome. Day-Lewis uses gestures and physical traits that are astonishing for his performance, the intensity that rages in his eyes is that of a man that is not playing Lincoln but IS Abraham Lincoln. He will surely be eyeing a third Best Actor Oscar come early next year. The film is full of great performances; James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson play lobbysists aiding the president in  trying to turn democrats to their sides, Tommy Lee Jones as Republican Thaddeus Stevens is phenomenal and will likely be an Oscar contender as well. Stevens fought his entire life for an 13th amendment to happen and the sheer look on his eyes when it happens is triumphant stuff. Jones nails the role and brings about verbal fireworks to his juicy role that are too good to reveal - plus wait until you see his one BIG scene that takes place in the senate.

Verbal Fireworks. That is essentially the come-on for Spielberg's Lincoln. Don't expect visual stimulation in this picture, it is all about words and tactics uttered by these famous politicians. Some scenes might be a bit draggy but Spielberg tells the story in such an un-Spielberg kind of way. With an abundance of restraint and silence. Who'd a thunk it possible for the Hollywood director to have this kind of film in him. The first time I saw Lincoln I was taken aback, expecting something else and ultimately leaving the theatre a bit puzzled. The second time I saw the film -knowing exactly what to expect- I was wooed by the great cinematographer Janusz Kaminski's camerawork and by how the film simply told the story in such an intimate and un-bombastic way. That is essentially Lincoln, a quiet beast of a film that is never too showy and never too self-aware of its grandiose story. An important, interesting one in fact, that everyone should know about.