By Pat Burns – Art Cinema and Movie Reviewer for GRAND Magazine
Having read my fair share of books on our 16th president, and being a huge Abraham Lincoln devotee, my expectations were very high for Steven Spielberg’s film “LINCOLN.” Happily, Spielberg and his all-star cast did not disappoint. To the contrary – I was positively spellbound.
Spielberg has his own technique for taking the audience back through time and into the life of President Lincoln, revealing his most private moments as a man, father, husband, leader and politician. The film is created with such authenticity that you truly experience being in the White House, watching congressional sessions from the balcony, bumping along the muddy roads of Washington in the horse drawn carriage and being alongside Lincoln as he inspects the battle fields.
Spielberg’s attention to detail is extraordinary. During Lincoln’s presidency only fireplaces were used for heating the White House. So, Spielberg left the rooms slightly smoky and, as Lincoln gazes out in contemplation from the Cabinet Room, we see frost on the window panes. Each room had props perfectly reflecting the period, right down to fabrics of drapes, chairs and clothing. Every attention to detail was thoroughly executed as we join Lincoln in his tumultuous final four months as president, crafting a course of action to end the war, unite the country and abolish slavery in one fell swoop.
It would be a challenge to imagine other actors being cast in the accompanying roles. Sally Fields perfectly portrays Mary Todd Lincoln, despite her 10 years’ seniority to star Daniel Day Lewis. Tommy Lee Jones portrays Thaddeus Stevens, one of the most powerful members of the United States House of Representative and an abolitionist, with authenticity and sarcastic, cutting dialog. Remaining cast members also held their own, despite the all-stars’ brilliant performances.
Together, Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day Lewis capture the essence of the president, much like that of Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial. The lasting impression of this film is much like visiting the Lincoln Memorial. Both leave you awestruck and inspired.
On Oprah’s “Next Chapter” program she interviewed Spielberg, Lewis and Fields. Her interviews are worth watching as well, to delve even deeper into this film. In it, Spielberg shared his intimate feelings about the making of “LINCOLN” and the closeness he felt with the actors and their characters. The screenplay, with its intense and rich dialog, was written by Tony Kushner and was based on five pages from the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Leading the Golden Globes with seven nominations, including best drama, best director for Spielberg and acting honors for Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones, this will likely be the exact list for the Oscar nominations as well.
“LINCOLN” is a modern masterpiece that depicts a defining moment in our country’s history and is, without a doubt, one of this year’s best pictures.