Tackling the life of Abraham Lincoln is certainly no easy task, yet this Steven Spielberg production is not your traditional biopic, as instead we peer into a small period of the great president's life, focusing on the struggles Lincoln encountered within his own cabinet when attempting to abolish slavery in the United States. In fact, this isn't a biopic at all, it's a courtroom drama.
Daniel Day-Lewis takes on the part of Lincoln, as we see the president in a troubled state, with the ongoing Civil War claiming a vast amount of lives every day on American soil. However, despite wanting an end to the violence, Lincoln is engulfed in a battle with his own conscience, as any pending declaration of peace would harm his chances of abolishing slavery, as he fights fervently against the passing of this crucial amendment.
In what is effectively a race against time, Lincoln must do whatever he can to obtain as many votes from the cabinet as possible to secure the emancipation of slaves, as he seeks the help of fellow Republican Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones). Meanwhile, Lincoln also faces issues on the home front, struggling to combine his pressurised occupation with his wife (Sally Field) and eldest son's (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) needs.
For want of a better word, Lincoln suffers from being somewhat boring, despite covering a series of fascinating and hugely important historical matters. It feels far more like a Clint Eastwood directed film than a Spielberg one. Lincoln suffers from going on for too long as well, as Spielberg seems to be adhering to this obligation within contemporary cinema, whereby the big releases are incredibly long in length, following on from the likes of War Horse, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit, Les Miserables and Skyfall. I could go on.
The picture is also rather confusing in parts, as though the audience are expected to have an already established background knowledge of 19th century American politics. There are a series of names and dates bandied around and it becomes overbearing and difficult to digest. With so many different characters brought in, and all of the supporting story lines, you never quite know what to focus on. Many of the sub-narratives don't seem to go anywhere either and are merely touched upon rather than dealt with. Such as the bribing for votes, Lincoln's turbulent relationship with his wife and sons – all lacking in conviction, and although only focusing on a compact period of Lincoln's life, Spielberg still manages to cover too many separate issues.
Nonetheless, where this feature stands strong, is within the acting performance by Day-Lewis. A frontrunner for the Best Actor award at this year’s Academy Awards, the talented performer turns in yet another career defining performance (how many does he need?). He just has this charisma, and manages to humanise the mythical figure that is Abraham Lincoln. Lee Jones and Field are also impressive, particularly the former who provides all of the film’s witty one liners, and lights up the screen in the courtroom scenes, which are certainly the most compelling within the picture.
You can see why Lincoln has been, and will be, a success in the States, as the film which marks the early stages of equality amongst black and white people in America, which seems to be tapping into a time and feeling across the nation at present, with its release coming so soon after Barack Obama secured his second term in the White House. However, it does feel Americanised as though it's catering solely for the US market, and Spielberg manages to make this story overly patriotic, especially evident when comparing to Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, which despite covering a similar theme, is far more self-reflective and anti-American than this offering.
Lincoln is a good film, it's well-acted and you can't deny how intriguing and important the story is, it's just done so in a quite irksome way, and you can tell it's been adapted from a historical textbook. Surprising in some ways, as if anyone is going to make the most of this story and produce an entertaining, compelling story of such an important and intricate character, it's Spielberg. Alas, the story of Lincoln's life still feels incomplete in a sense. Maybe Tarantino himself can give this a go one day, it would no doubt make for a better movie.