Second Opinion: Lincoln

Essentially staffed by two blokes who like film, Film Intel writers Sam and Ben sometimes agree. 

And then, sometimes they don't. 

Second Opinion is what happens when they don't. Well... that and lots of shouting.

From Sam's original Lincoln review: 'Finally, after nearly two hours of Lincoln wrestling with the same idea, one of his inner circle proclaims, 'I cannot listen to this any more!'. My feelings exactly.' Two stars.

'a truly comprehensive display of flawless acting; everything from his vocal tone and volume to his asymmetrical gait makes you genuinely believe in Day-Lewis’ inhabitation of the role'

Seen as prime Oscar bait prior to the 85th Academy Awards earlier this year with a wealth of nominations, Lincoln ultimately achieved a modest two golden statuettes: one for Best Production Design, the other for Best Actor. Amongst a weaker field, Spielberg’s presidential biopic undoubtedly could have walked away with several more. But no matter who he was up against, you’d be hard pressed to find a performance more deserving of recognition than Daniel Day-Lewis’ transformative portrayal of the titular president.

Day-Lewis’ extraordinary turn as Abraham Lincoln will stay with you above all else here. The 16th US President is a figure who has become iconic – almost superhumanly so – through his legacy, and it would be easy for Day-Lewis to play Honest Abe as a gallant behemoth in the mould of the colossus seated in his memorial in Washington D.C. But the actor inhabits Lincoln from the first moment he is on screen to the last with a starkly human and multi-layered performance interwoven with curiosities that burrow under your skin.

Day-Lewis’ Lincoln is equal parts stalwart statesman and avuncular oddball who never resists the opportunity to spin a good yarn, often when no one has asked and always in charismatic fashion. It’s a truly comprehensive display of flawless acting; everything from his vocal tone and volume to his asymmetrical gait makes you genuinely believe in Day-Lewis’ inhabitation of the role.

There’s undeniable talent elsewhere in the cast, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt continuing to impress and Tommy Lee Jones putting in a heavyweight performance of such gravitas and skill that it makes you forget he ever picked up a neuralyzer and a pair of shades. Only Sally Field feels slightly out of place thanks to a theatrical performance somewhat at odds with the historical realism surrounding her.

Steven Spielberg manages a rich and polished period authenticity throughout Lincoln – something woefully missing from the director’s previous historical drama War Horse, and therefore even more pleasing to see done so well here. But whilst Spielberg’s film has a mid-19th Century heart, its mentality has strong undercurrents of contemporary politics, with echoes of Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing in the heated debates and walk-and-talk politicising seen throughout the film. Spielberg’s decision to focus on one pivotal month during Lincoln’s second term is also a strong choice, allowing the director to create an epic feel whilst at the same time investigating aspects of the president’s life and relationships in acute detail.

Lincoln is not perfect. This is a film where words speak louder than actions, and occasionally throughout its two-and-a-half hour running time Spielberg allows the political periphrasis to overwhelm, leaving you yearning every so often for someone to just get up and do something. The film is also about twenty minutes too long, with an epilogue that feels contrary to the rest of the film through its unnecessary sentimentality. Despite these flaws however, Lincoln remains highly impressive and deserves recognition as a finely crafted piece of period political drama.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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