Lincoln written by Tony Kushner and Doris Kearns Goodwin, directed by Steven Spielberg (DreamWorks Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Reliance Entertainment, PG-13, 150 minutes)
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Tommy Lee Jones.
The Suspension of Disbelief
There’s something odd that occurs for A-list superstars. There comes a point in the actor’s life where, no matter the role, the actor overshadows the character. When Brad Pitt stars in a movie, we are watching Brad Pitt playing a character. The real-world Brad Pitt seeps into the character. Pitt’s relationship with Angelina Jolie, his outspoken views on social justice, and his constant appearances in the tabloids become a part of the film. We can’t help ourselves. That’s what popular culture can do.
The best movies, however, require a suspension of disbelief. The movie goer must divorce the external circumstances of the real world from story projected on the silver screen. The better this suspension, the more likely the viewer becomes engrossed in the setting and the more the viewer cares about the subtleties of the story.
In Steven Spielberg’s historical drama, Lincoln, the star-studded cast provides examples on both sides of this predicament known as the suspension of disbelief.
The Political Intrigue behind Ending Slavery
Lincoln illustrates the lengths President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) took to ensure the passing of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, the legislation necessary to repeal slavery once and for all.
Interestingly, regarding Abraham Lincoln, our basic American history lessons focus a great deal on the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, an executive order proclaiming all slaves to be free.
But the trouble is, the Emancipation Proclamation was not a law passed by Congress; it was issued by the authority of the Commander-in-Chief during war. In essence, Lincoln took Southern property as an act of war. That property just happened to be people.
With the Civil War on the verge of conclusion, mounting pressure emerges around Lincoln to return the South its property—people, don’t forget—in order to bring peace between the Northern and Southern States.
With these issues in mind, Lincoln faces a slender balance between his Northern colleagues of varying political opinions. Lincoln needs a 2/3rds majority to abolish slavery, meaning he needs to turn 20 democrats to his side. At the same time, Lincoln must pursue peace but in a clandestine fashion so that his proposed amendment can pass. Remember, Lincoln’s argument behind passing the 13th Amendment is a war strategy. If Lincoln removes the reason for the Southern State’s rebellion, what do they have left to fight for? Yet at the same time, if the South is already at the bargaining table, might not abolishing slavery threaten peace? Lincoln faces a conundrum, to say the least.
While Lincoln deals heavily with the political intrigue surrounding this delicate time in American history, the quality of this film lies in its acting. Daniel Day-Lewis deserves an Oscar nomination, and at this point, he holds the best performance I’ve seen this year.
But to me, what really stuns about Lincoln is Day-Lewis’ ability to become Abraham Lincoln. No matter the quality of acting, it is hard to divorce the actor from the role. In fact, Lincoln offers an interesting study in this regard.
While all of the actors submit stunning performances, only Daniel Day-Lewis performs in such a way that you forget entirely about Daniel Day-Lewis. Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field) possesses the careful balance between sanity and mania. But when I watch Mary, I see Sally Field. Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) holds the firmest abolitionist convictions. He is gruff, forceful, witty, gelid, and strong-willed. But I see Tommy Lee Jones in a wig.
But Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t exist. I see a person soft-spoken yet able to command a room. I perceive a tall man with the slightest hunch in his posture. I observe a hint of a limp during a stroll. I notice a man of convictions who understands the importance of compromise in order to get things done. I see a loving husband and father. I recognize a man wearied by war with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Lincoln doesn’t have the most compelling narrative. Nobody would mistake it for a fast-paced piece of entertainment. But, my oh my, what a remarkable character study we see on the screen. Go watch Lincoln; it’s worth it.
Verdict: 4 out of 5