Depicting another person's life has to be one of the most daunting jobs to take in Hollywood. Considering the protagonist of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln is, arguably, the greatest President the United States has ever had, the bar was certainly raised far higher than most other real-life depictions. However, with a methodically-dedicated method actor in Daniel Day-Lewis cast to fill in Abe's broad shoulders, the chances of Lincoln's greatness seems almost guaranteed.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed in Hollywood...
Recently re-elected to a second presidential term, Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) was facing the Civil War's fourth year. Instead of brokering a peace treaty and secession by the Confederate States that would end the war, Lincoln focuses all of his attention on getting the 13th Amendment passed through the House of Representatives. However, with the large number of Democrats opposing the abolition of slavery, Lincoln must rely on the help of his Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) and a number of his Cabinet members to sway the moderate Democrats in order to make history.
Lincoln covers the last four months of Lincoln's life, which was a good window of time to cover without being overwhelming with information. While the main plot revolves around Lincoln and his associates attempting to pass the 13th Amendment, there are few subplots thrown in involving Lincoln's oldest son, Robert Lincoln's (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) interest in joining the Army, abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens' (Tommy Lee Jones) personal interest in abolition, and the marital woes Lincoln had with his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field).
An important draw to period pieces is the film's ability to ingulf its audiences into believing that they're really witnessing something from that time period. Thus, costume design plays a large role in Lincoln. From the varying uniforms worn by the US and Confederate Armies to the elaborate hairstyles. Let me be frank: Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a mustache.
Of course, costume design doesn't mean much if a film's actors aren't able to deliver performances of a lifetime (or lifetimes, as it were). Day-Lewis is known for his intense obsession to his roles, and it definitely shows in Lincoln. From the way he limbers on as he walks to the cadence in his voice, Day-Lewis practically IS Abraham Lincoln. He's able to balance pensive moments with emotional delivery in his speech. His ability to simply transform into the character he's portraying have made him a remarkably talented actor, and it won't be surprising to see him receive Oscar nods for this performance.
Of course, Lincoln appeals to a specific demographic. As such, those not interested in 19th Century politics, the abolition of slavery, or Day-Lewis might not find much with Lincoln. Spielberg's accomplishments precede him, and Lincoln feels like a pleasure piece made for himself rather than for others. That's not a backhanded way of saying it's a frustrating film that nobody but him will enjoy. Rather, it's one that he has personal interest in that doesn't feel like it has to please anybody else.
With that said, however, the film can feel dry at times. It's a very dialogue-heavy film with little to no real drama or suspense built in, so it sometimes feels like the film is dragging. However, there are glimpses of Lincoln's humor sprinkled throughout as he has a tendency to go on irrelevant tangents or share funny anecdotes to break the mood. It's those moments that help break the otherwise tedium of the plot.
Lincoln is one of the better period piece/biopics in recent years. However, most might not find the subject matter very interesting or engaging. Those that take the plunge will be rewarded by Day-Lewis' performance as the titular Lincoln. If anything, Spielberg found a more compelling way to tell the story behind the 13th Amendment that history books will ever be able to achieve.