Capturing the danger and excitement of political intrigue, Steven Spielberg's Lincoln chronicles the final four months in the life of the man regarded as America's greatest President. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role, the untold story focuses on a defining moment in Abraham Lincoln's life - as commander-in-chief of a country in chaos; as a husband and father afraid of losing his own son to the war; and as a man guided by his conscience to end slavery. With the Civil War nearing conclusion, President Lincoln fights to convince a fractious Congress to pass a Constitutional amendment that will change the course of history. Facing fierce opposition, he wages a battle of strategy, persuasion, and political muscle to build a coalition out of his team of rivals.
As with the great John Ford (Young Mr. Lincoln
) before him, it would be out of character for Steven Spielberg to construct a conventional, cradle-to-grave portrait of a historical figure. In drawing from Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals
, the director instead depicts a career-defining moment in the career of Abraham Lincoln (an uncharacteristically restrained Daniel Day-Lewis). With the Civil War raging, and the death toll rising, the president focuses his energies on passage of the 13th Amendment. Even those sympathetic to the cause question his timing, but Lincoln doesn't see the two issues as separate, and the situation turns personal when his son, Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), chooses to enlist rather than to study law. While still mourning the loss of one son, Mary (Sally Field) can't bear to lose another. Playwright Tony Kushner, who adapted the screenplay, takes a page from the procedural handbook in tracing Lincoln's steps to win over enough representatives to abolish slavery, while simultaneously bringing a larger-than-life leader down to a more manageable size. In his stooped-shoulder slouch and Columbo-like speech, Day-Lewis succeeds so admirably that the more outspoken characters, like congressman Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) and lobbyist W.N. Bilbo (James Spader), threaten to steal the spotlight whenever they enter the scene, but the levity of their performances provides respite from the complicated strategizing and carnage-strewn battlefields. If Lincoln
doesn't thrill like the Kushner-penned Munich
, there's never a dull moment--though it would take a second viewing to catch all the political nuances. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
Team of Rivals
A Steven Spielberg Film: Lincoln: A Cinematic and Historical Companion