Lincoln – Best Picture?

by Tony Shea on February 1, 2013


LincolnOver the last several weeks I have been wading through the Best Picture contenders in this year’s Oscar race, in an effort to pick the winner. Having watched Lincoln now, I feel my job has become considerably easier. So far I have reviewed Django Unchained, Argo, and Silver Linings Playbook. I have also watched Les Miserables and Zero Dark Thirty but not yet written about them. That leaves Beasts of the Southern Wild, Amour, and Life of Pi to go, but I don’t think I’ll need to watch any of those other films to determine who will be winning Best Picture.

It will be Lincoln and that will be that.

I admire the scope of what Steven Spielberg takes on as a director, his prolific nature (he has now directed more than 50 films) and his ability to work across genres.  Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler’s List, and Catch Me if You Can are all excellent films with wildly different ambitions. With Lincoln, Spielberg has crafted another fine addition to his body of work.

Spielberg has dealt with the issue of slavery previously in his film Amistad, and revisits the subject again here in what might be considered a complimentary bookend to that earlier film.  Lincoln revolves around the battle to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that outlawed slavery. While President Lincoln had already made the Emancipation Proclamation, ostensibly freeing the slaves, he feared that this would not be enough after a reformation of the Union at the conclusion of the Civil War. Thus the 13th Amendment was necessary to ensure that slavery would never be resurrected.

The film depicts an intimate portrait of President Lincoln as a fully realized man, rather than as a monument. To Daniel Day Lewis’s credit, who stars as the 16th President of the United States, you feel like you’re sitting there with the real man as he tells one of his anecdotes, his face half hidden in shadow, struggling with the magnum weight of the Civil War, the tenuous state of the Union, and the tremendous loss of more than 600,000 lives–the necessary cost of slavery’s abolition. Through it all, we are presented with a man possessed of a deep morality, who seeks peace while understanding the gravity of war, having lost a son to it’s machinations, with another son now eager to enlist and perhaps die on the battlefield, and a wife reasonably horrified by this possibility.

The film does a good job of conveying the necessary information the audience needs to know to understand the social and political leanings of the times and rewards careful attention to it’s sometimes difficult, semi-antiquated dialects, and the depth of it’s script. There are a variety of excellent performances from Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, and James Spader among them.

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