Lincoln Review

What is consistent and almost inevitable with adaptations of presidential terms is that they live or die entirely on who portrays the incumbent. Lincoln does well to draw Daniel Day-Lewis into the fold. So great an opportunity it is for director Steven Spielberg to take on the life of the sixteenth President of the United States, the actual challenge of adapting Abraham Lincoln’s life and times in office is underrepresented. The highlight wheel whirs away, bagging Day-Lewis that inevitable Academy Award in the process. Lincoln will not struggle to win over those history buffs it so clearly appeals to, and it does segregate the market somewhat, casting out Oliver Stone and slapping his hands away from another adaptation of a monumentally interesting political figure.

But that interest wanes rather rapidly. Despite a naturally strong performance from Day-Lewis and some excellent supporting work from James Spader and Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln never gets itself going. It has all the fusty dramatics and the period piece settings, but entertaining oneself with those and also knowing that the John Adams miniseries is available (and better cast) is a tough bullet to bite. Lincoln will serve more for those who are interested in the broader picture. The stretched image of a declared and free American, and how the challenges of independence weighed on the shoulders of a historic leader, portrayed well and comfortably so by men of experienced stature. It happened with Paul Giamatti in John Adams, Sam Rockwell and Josh Brolin with George W. Bush caricatures and Frank Langella in Frost v. Nixon. These are relatively large shoes to fill, and each has given it a responsible and resourceful go. Day-Lewis does not lead the pack with his portrayal of Lincoln, but he is not far behind the frontrunner.

True it may be that Spielberg and Day-Lewis are veterans of the field, that does not make them the perfect pairing. Spielberg’s direction is not the most inspiring offering, entirely forgettable at times as he drags the likes of Tim Blake Nelson and Sally Field into the fold for little more than a bit of plot progression. Their dereliction is inevitable, upsetting, but at least it is not wasted entirely. They serve a strong purpose. An inevitable bolstering of a sure-fire Academy Awards nomination. If Josh Brolin can nab nominations for W. of all things, then surely Day-Lewis can grab wins for Lincoln.

That he did, and if our culture is based on the litmus test of success (which it is), then Day-Lewis provides a successful performance. He has the look nailed down, the accent studied well and the natural in front of the camera has no trouble turning on the charm or chastising and stern tones of a presidential figure when the time calls for it over this two- and a-bit hours of grand-scale production. Moral clarity and the certified goodness of a first-time president are produced with the high standard expected of not just the historical period piece but that of the Hollywood blockbuster looking to do right by one of their golden guys, a hero for America proudly displayed on camera with a stellar cast behind it. It’s a shame it doesn’t amount to much more than a film of note more for the eponymous performance holding what little surrounds it together.

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