Spielberg as director, an American political hero as the protagonist and a two-time Oscar winner to play him; it wasn’t hard to predict that “Lincoln” would do well this awards season. With critics reeling and Oscars seeming inevitable, I sat down in the cinema sceptical, but I left convinced.
Lincoln is a brilliant retelling of the political struggle to pass the Thirteenth Amendment at the end of the American Civil War. With a peace offering on the table from the Confederates, the President must choose between short-term and long-term gain for the nation.
Despite a slow first hour, the memory of boredom and the gentleman snoring in the row in front of me long disappears as stirring and witty performances develop and the plot accelerates. Daniel Day-Lewis delivers, yet again, in his portrayal of a compassionate, anecdote-telling President who struggles against the stubbornness of his strategising cabinet and the uncompromising House of Representatives. At his side is Sally Field’s determined First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones’ show-stealing radical, Republican Thaddeus Stevens.
The first hour was dull and left little promise for the next hour and a half to come. It served as an introduction to the political climate and the various parties involved in the motion’s development. Useful? Perhaps. Boring? Definitely. Despite this attempt to inform us of the inner workings of 19th Century Congress, I also couldn’t help but feel that the film was specifically created for an American audience. Engrained into the US School Syllabus, this period of history is more than familiar to every child who goes to class: predictably, gaps in the story appear when the film is shown internationally.
The patriotic nature of this piece becomes less subtle, however, in the depiction of its protagonist. Abraham Lincoln, although seamlessly portrayed by Day-Lewis, who’s resemblance to the President is unnerving, is depicted as the rare example of loveable politician to the extent that on his deathbed (definitely not a spoiler), he’s bathed in white light, surrounded by his apostles, I mean, Cabinet. It grows increasingly unsubtle as the movie goes on, but taken with a pinch of salt the film more than holds its own.
Despite these shortcomings, particularly a recycled and uninteresting soundtrack from the legendary John Williams, it deserves to sit amongst the “Best Picture” nominations. It’s elegant, powerful and unexpectedly relevant.
The film was released in the US in November, just a month before the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left the nation and the world in a state of mourning. It simultaneously reignited the issue of another Amendment, the second, that declares “the right to bear arms.”
Watching Lincoln struggle to introduce a law, whose absence now would seem unthinkable, makes the hope of success in President Obama’s endeavour to adjust the US’ relationship to firearms all the more dwindling and Lincoln’s victory all the more powerful.