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REVIEW: Lincoln (12A)
ACTORS in Hollywood must secretly resent that darned Daniel Day-Lewis.
He spends the majority of his time living quietly with his wife and sons, and then, every few years, he decides to fully immerse himself in a coveted role, heads out into the limelight he professes to despise, and waltzes off with that year’s best actor trophies.
The same has been happening recently for his performance as none other than the incredibly moral 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, in Steven Spielberg’s long-awaited biopic.
This worthy but frequently wearisome film focuses on one of the key events in the country’s history, the signing of the 13th amendment to the US Constitution which would ban slavery, and the months of campaigning which led up to it. It also, given their proximity, deals with the tragic events which came a few months afterwards.
Early in the film, we encounter Lincoln greeting starstruck Americans – who know every word of his famous speeches - on the battlefield before the action moves off the field to January 1865, and the fourth year of the bloody Civil War.
The President, recognising the opportunity whilst the latter rages on, decides the moment has come, much to the frustration of his wife (Sally Field), the Secretary Of State (David Strathairn) and most others.
He swiftly employs a crack team to cajole the reluctant whilst courting both abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) and those who openly admit their own racism, and the film builds slowly to the point of the vote itself when Spielberg succeeds in creating tension despite our knowledge of the conclusion.
Rick Carter’s production design is stunning and Tony Kushner's script retains a period feel, but much of the latter is just too wordy, interminably dull at times and seems to centre on men forever scheming in rooms, albeit occasionally interrupted by Lincoln and one of his anecdotes. These litter the running time so obviously that a joke is even cracked by a character about their frequency and, unfortunately, their minutiae as presented here will not be so fascinating for the majority of the viewing public.
Sally Field does a terrific job presenting a woman who supported her husband whilst much troubled by her health, and simultaneously tortured by both the death of one of her sons and the desire of the eldest to pursue a career on the battlefield. In reality, Mary Todd Lincoln had four boys, only one of whom outlived her.
Tommy Lee Jones plays to type whilst Daniel, as we’d expect, fully inhabits his character, from his speech to his natural gravitas, stillness and distinctive gait.
There are few who’d deny that his performance is admirable and impressive, but whether Lincoln the film will be voted anyone’s best of the year is much less certain.