In development for long enough to question whether Steven Spielberg’s planned opus of American historical legend Abraham Lincoln would actually make it onto celluloid with a credible filmmaker responsible, the aptly-titled Lincoln finally makes its grandiose arrival on the big screen with nothing short of universal widespread acclaim attached to it. Like we knew it would.
Like or dislike the ‘Spielbergian’ stature his films belie, it proves tough not to carve high expectations at what’s to come, and clench the arms of your seat tightly as the film begins. For not only has the renowned director, behind some of the biggest blockbusters the world’s seen, appeared to have made something cut more from the same cloth as his smaller-but-equally-dramatic efforts like, say, Munich, but has compiled a character actor cast to end all character actor casts – led by character-acting sensation Daniel Day-Lewis.
As far as historical biopics go, this is transcendant of what audiences will come to expect; bravely overlooking Abe's personal history for the history he created, we are spared of any troubled past he may have had, of any struggles he contended with - of what made Lincoln the President he was.
Instead, Spielberg pinpoints a legacy-defining spectrum of his life, providing us with much of this context without clogging the film with unecessary development... In a film with a running time of 150 minutes, you'd agree this to be important.
As the Civil War continues to end lives on the battlefield, Lincoln is forced to fight a war with his fellow cabinet members over a crucial decision to pass the 13th Amendment, which plans to see all slavery abolished. This means prolonging the oncoming peace of the ongoing war whilst he ensures the Congress will pass this law he is so intent on changing, providing solid investment to this part of Abe's presidency - a strand that could have been flitted over in the hands of many other directors.
The outcome may be written in school text books, but these performances will restrict your eyes from straying. Two-time Oscar winner Day-Lewis is streamlined as Lincoln, a sea of calm despite the convoluted pressure he is forced to face in order to reach the conclusion he so yearns.
A man of few words, the president provides anecdotes every so often, like a little-used wind-up toy; this is the very definition of show-stopping, perfectly complemented by Tony Kushner's screenplay: each would be great without the other, but combined? Something special emanates from Spielberg's film. Sally Field, as his erratically-minded wife, provides able support and scene-steals every scene Day-Lewis isn't in; Tommy Lee Jones as Republican Thaddeus Stevens is everything you have come to expect from the actor, providing heart in a gruff role; David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook, James Spader, John Hawkes - this is an astoundingly-assembled cast who all add depth to their otherwise indiscernible figures. It says a lot about a cast when Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the weak link (here playing Lincoln's son, Robert.)
But Lincoln, for all of its merits (and Academy Award nominations - 12, in total) is by no means perfect, and at 150 minutes, far too long. It appears that Spielberg's heartfelt summer tentpoles are something of the past, for Lincoln doesn't only require time, but attention - no toilet breaks for this one. Think Inception - but in place of action, you have dialogue.
Once invested however, there is no danger of losing interest - and an overwhelming feeling that lingers throughout will make you wonder whether the renowned director has reached a new stage of filmmaking. For a man who has been crafting masterpieces for decades, his portrayal of Honest Abe could be one of his most honest pieces of work yet.