Urban Cinefile
"They do a tremendous amount for charity here and not just the Hollywood wives who want to put on their best Givenchy and go out and pat little kids on the head in hospital."  -Jackie Collins on Hollywood wives
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday July 28, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



In 1865, over the final four months of his second term as President of the USA, Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis) focuses his energies on ending the devastating Civil War - not merely by ending it but by fighting to pass the 13th Amendment, permanently abolishing slavery. Lincoln is a man of raw paradoxes: funny and solemn, a playful storyteller and fierce power broker, a shrewd commander and a vulnerable father. But in his nation's darkest hour, when the times demand the very best of people, he reaches from within himself for something powerful and everlasting.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A literally and metaphorically towering performance by Daniel Day Lewis as the 1.93cm Abraham Lincoln drives this historically riveting and personally impassioned film from Steven Spielberg. Of course Lewis can't (nor would) deliver an impersonation of the 16th American President and the first to be assassinated, but he makes the character entirely plausible - and the screenplay puts him in context as statesman, as scheming politician, as a just & wise man and as a typical father and husband.

It is a riveting film, and a reminder of the passion and integrity that Spielberg brings to 'issue' films - like Schindler's List and like Amistad. But for a change, images were not enough: he had to have Lincoln's words.

The film is a showcase for the many great qualities that balanced Lincoln's patchwork character; not that his morality was ever in question. Indeed, he makes a wonderful point to the overly zealous Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), during an exchange about 'moral compass'. Lincoln says that while the compass can readily point you to true North, it says nothing about the swamps and hindrances you might find on the way.

It's a wonderful and ultimately vital analogy in the context of Lincoln's pursuit of the 13th amendment which abolished slavery and ended the Civil War. Stevens was all for that, and more - it was his enlightened vision of an America where not only is slavery abolished but the freed slaves would have a vote that Lincoln wanted to tame (at least in public) for fear of it endangering the campaign by scaremongering politicians - and the newspapers.

Tony Kushner's screenplay is said to be 'partly based' on Doris Kearns Goodwin's book, Team of Rivals, which is where much of the historical and political detail comes from, but Kushner (a Pulitzer Prize winner) fleshes out the Lincoln family as well as Lincoln the man. The portrait works in service of the story, and the moment in history we witness on screen deserves all the serious attention the filmmakers pay to it.

Janusz Kaminski's lighting and framing is classical yet creative, while John Williams has composed another stirring score. But it's Spielberg's direction that is astonishing, as he balances the elements to deliver a cohesive yet complex story. The ravages of the ghastly Civil War, the nation divided along human rights lines and a President determined to unite it .... all leaders and aspiring politicians should study Lincoln, and this film is a terrific place to start. Leave hubris at the door ....

Sally Field is heartbreaking as his wife Mary, and the stunning supporting cast all bring their best to create authenticity and veracity in their characters. Politics was no cleaner then than it is today, and the film doesn't whitewash anybody, not even Lincoln. That is perhaps it's most telling attribute because it makes it all the more real, powerful and haunting. These events changed not only America but the world - we should reflect and perhaps take some lessons from it even now.

Review by Louise Keller:
With Steven Spielberg's film meticulously depicting the backdrop of the political climate and times of Abraham Lincoln as the Civil War rages, it is Daniel Day-Lewis' indelible portrait of the President, visionary, raconteur, husband and family man that stands at the forefront, as he resolutely realises his goal to abolish slavery.

It's a riveting performance that begins with a remarkable physical transformation that feels akin to all previously seen imagery of Lincoln. The fact that Day-Lewis manages to inhabit the character in such a way that he becomes a tangible, fully rounded person, makes his performance all the more satisfying, the impetus of the story of historic fact resonating. History lesson, political thriller and human drama all rolled together into one sizzling cigar, this is a film whose ballast and tension registers strongly, documenting a vital chapter of one man's vision of the ideals of democracy, for the benefit of all men.

Adapted in part from Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals, Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner's screenplay painstakingly establishes the mood of 1865, four years after the Civil War has begun, its death toll dramatically rising and into the beginning of Lincoln's second term as President. There's a calmness about Day-Lewis' Lincoln; the movement of his tall, angular frame is as measured as his words; his instantly recognisable bearded profile is a comforting presence. Renowned for his story-telling, sometimes at the most surprising of times and often involving wry humour, there's a wisdom that Lincoln naturally reveals. But overall, Spielberg's film depicts Lincoln as a flesh and blood man, imperfections included.

The rowdy parliamentary scenes reinforce that not much has changed in the past 150 years. The political turmoil is well canvassed, as Lincoln fights his political rivals in the lead up to the monumental passing of the 13th amendment to abolish slavery on January 31. The relationship between the passing of the amendment and the ending of the Civil War is clearly described, making the passing of the bill even more remarkable.

For those familiar with American history, there will be special interest in the depiction of the various players, such as David Strathairn's Secretary of State, William Seward and Tommy Lee Jones as radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens, whose real reason for his long-held passionate view for the abolishment of slavery is only revealed in a moving scene towards the film's conclusion. I am no American history expert: yet I found the film enlightening and fascinating as it explains so many aspects of how this monumental reform came into being.

The scenes between Day-Lewis and Sally Field as Lincoln's wife Mary-Todd, who has suffered a huge personal loss are equally telling; the moment when he tells her (after a heated discussion in their private rooms) that we must all be responsible for our own decisions, is one to savour. We sense the communication difficulties between Lincoln and his older son Robert Lincoln (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who wants to enlist in order to preserve his own sense of worth, despite his parents' wishes. But the innate closeness between Lincoln and his young son Willie (Chase Edmunds) is clear with Willie a constant presence in the everyday routine of the President.

The production design well illustrates the times and John Williams' score is both traditional and with enough grandeur to befit the action. The entire cast of players including James Spader, Hal Holbrook, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson are well picked and performances are true. I felt as though I had been privy to an interlude of cinematic time-travelling, courtesy the magic carpet of Steven Spielberg and the considerable talents of Daniel Day-Lewis, for his potent, Oscar-worthy depiction.

Published June 14, 2013

Email this article

Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(US/India, 2012)

CAST: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson, Joseph Cross, Jared Harris

PRODUCER: Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy

DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg

SCRIPT: Tony Kushner (book "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin.)


EDITOR: Michael Kahn

MUSIC: John Williams


RUNNING TIME: 152 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 7, 2013



DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: June 14, 2013

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020