Daniel Day-Lewis plays Lincoln in a revealing drama that focuses on the 16th President’s tumultuous final months in office. In a nation divided by war and the strong winds of change, Lincoln pursues a course of action designed to end the war, unite the country and abolish slavery. With the moral courage and fierce determination to succeed, his choices during this critical moment will change the fate of generations to come.
Expecting the Civil War to end within a month but concerned that his 1863 Emancipation Proclamation may be discarded by the courts once the war has concluded and the 13th Amendment defeated by the returning slave states, Lincoln feels it is imperative to pass the amendment by the end of January, thus removing any possibility that slaves who have already been freed may be re-enslaved.
As with the great John Ford (Young Mr. Lincoln) before him, it would be out of character for Steven Spielberg to construct a conventional, cradle-to-grave portrait of a historical figure. In drawing from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, the director instead depicts a career-defining moment in the career of Abraham Lincoln (an uncharacteristically restrained Daniel Day-Lewis).
With the Civil War raging, and the death toll rising, the president focuses his energies on passage of the 13th Amendment. Even those sympathetic to the cause question his timing, but Lincoln doesn’t see the two issues as separate, and the situation turns personal when his son, Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), chooses to enlist rather than to study law.
While still mourning the loss of one son, Mary (Sally Field) can’t bear to lose another. Playwright Tony Kushner, who adapted the screenplay, takes a page from the procedural handbook in tracing Lincoln’s steps to win over enough representatives to abolish slavery, while simultaneously bringing a larger-than-life leader down to a more manageable size.
In his stooped-shoulder slouch, Day-Lewis succeeds so admirably that the more outspoken characters, like congressman Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) and lobbyist W.N. Bilbo (James Spader), threaten to steal the spotlight whenever they enter the scene, but the levity of their performances provides respite from the complicated strategizing and carnage-strewn battlefields. If Lincoln doesn’t thrill like the Kushner-penned Munich, there’s never a dull moment–though it would take a second viewing to catch all the political nuances.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Year of Release: 2012
Character to watch: Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln.
Journal your answers to the following questions after you watch the movie.
- How does this particular character’s journey compare with yours?
- Did the character develop certain characteristics during the movie that you have or that you would like to have? If so, what are those characteristics?
- What obstacles did this character face? What was his or her biggest challenge?
- What would you have done differently if you had been in the same position as the character?
- Is this character the type of person you would be friends with? Why or why not?