If Abraham Lincoln was alive today, he would be celebrating his 214th birthday! And Steven Spielberg’s biopic on the last few months of his life could not have found a better time to release in India.
While watching the film I realised that this was one of Spielberg’s purest attempt at making a film. The wizard has directed and produced some of the most memorable and critically acclaimed films over the last four decades ranging from genres like war, historical biographies, science fiction and adventure but only Lincoln comes close to his 1993 magnum opus, Schindler’s List.
The film has been acclaimed globally for its fine film craft and exceptional acting by Daniel Day Lewis, who has already won a Golden Globe award for the portrayal of 16th American President, and is most likely to win his 3rd Academy Award as well.
As is characteristic of Daniel one feels that he thoroughly researched the character before acting and got into not only the skin but the bone of it. His subtle facial expressions, weighed and controlled dialogue delivery makes it one of the finest performances you would see in front of the camera. His costume designer, hair and makeup artist have also done a commendable job at making Daniel look like Abraham Lincoln.
Last week after reviewing Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children, I recommended you to save that ticket money for Lincoln. Looking back at my reference, let me advice you to briefly read up on the life of Abraham Lincoln, the American civil war and the American constitution if you are planning to watch the film.
The film is only for serious viewers and lacks the energy or entertainment found in some of Spielberg’s earlier films. Some scenes become so coagulated in dialogues and conversations that you feel you are watching historical proceedings of their parliament and not a film. To me, at one point the film seemed like an M. Phil lecture in American modern history.
Lincoln is for an evolved audience; Spielberg has left a lot of information on the assumption that the viewers will know it already. How Lincoln’s ideology shaped up, the outbreak of the civil war, his election and initial attempts to propose the abolition of slavery has not been clearly defined in the film.
But if one has his/her homework done, there are faint instances in the film to hint at Lincoln’s past like his self taught education and this demise of his children. Lincoln’s relationship with his surviving children and wife comes as a flipside reflection of the man’s personal life and duties as opposed to his public image and duties. The script is interspersed with subtle moments to establish that Lincoln was also a man with a sharp sense of humour.
Lincoln’s willpower, ambition and righteousness are shown to be forged of the toughest steel. While his wife and advisors strongly profess holding back the bill for abolition of slavery till he is elected in the office for a second term; Lincoln goes against the tide to do what he feels is right for his nation. The choices, decisions and people he must have faced have been accurately portrayed in the film. We see him aging under pressure and later in the film a character tells Lincoln that he has aged ten years in one.
Janus Kaminski’s cinematography compliments Spielberg’s direction and the film’s plot. Light sources in the film, right from candle lamps to sunlight coming in from the windows are shown with light spilling, a symbolic expression that there is something fair and just guiding Lincoln to abolish the inhuman practice of slavery. When the bill is finally passed in the House of Representatives, Lincoln is shown standing against a window, redeeming his efforts with a sort of divine pristine white light falling on him.
Tommy Lee Jones as the Congress leader Thaddeus Stevens and Sally Field as Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd Lincoln have pulled off powerful and commendable performances. But it is the character of Abraham Lincoln, devoid of emotional swings, extreme physical activity, high pitched dialogues or conventional valour of a protagonist that dictates the viewer’s attention throughout the film.
One must see Lincoln to experience unadulterated filmmaking by the biggest director and producer who betters himself with this film and a powerful performance by one of the greatest actor of our age.