Lincoln (***½)

Steven Spielberg delivers his finest work since Minority Report (2002) with his politically charged and emotionally timely film, Lincoln.  Starring Daniel Day-Lewis in the pivotal role of Abraham Lincoln, the film tells the story of the last months of Lincoln’s presidency and his mission to abolish slavery during the time of the civil war.

Tony Kushner adapts the screenplay with clever candor and surprisingly humorous dialogue.  Lincoln takes on such a life force of its near two-and-a-half hour runtime but never lets up on its thematic elements or attempts to take the easy route of cheap period satire that wears thin in other films about a dark time in America’s history.  The film doesn’t just focus on Lincoln, the political messiah sent to save America from evil, its non-dictum method in retelling a story with so many surrounding characters gives Abe a unique and accessible outlook for a viewer to latch onto, no matter what the viewer may or may not know about him.

Spielberg multitasks in his directorial efforts, honoring one of the greatest figures in history with admiration and pride, without delivering overkill.  He also allows an audience member to invoke a diplomatic spirit, perhaps dormant, or unknown of its existence, to fuel and respect their opportunities to sit in a theater and watch Lincoln freely and proudly.  As a Puerto Rican and Black American, I take in this feeling proudly.  Spielberg hasn’t been this aware of his abilities as a director since Saving Private Ryan (1999).  It’s a huge step back in the right direction.

Daniel Day-Lewis effortlessly envelopes Abraham Lincoln with charm and resolve.  It’s a magnetic turn that not only inspires the human spirit but provides an immense amount of laughter.  It’s an award-worthy turn and demonstrates once again, why Day-Lewis stands near the top of actors working today.  The performance is subtle however, never outlandish and mostly reserved.  Day-Lewis strikes when the irons hot but holds back when necessary. It’s mostly assertive throughout nonetheless.

Sally Field is back Oscar voters.  She stands as the emotional epicenter of a film that can stir such political outrage.  As Mary Todd Lincoln, you can empathize, feel, and damn near hold the screen attempting to console a woman beaten and broken with grief.  Oscar’s favorite lady is present, the supportive wife.

Academy Award Winner Tommy Lee Jones and James Spader completely steal the show, scene after scene, line after line.  Jones recaptures his magic from his award-winning turn as Federal Marshal Sam in The Fugitive (1993).  As Thaddeus Stevens, his role is fundamentally important and memorable, especially in its last moments.  A role that has instantly ignited the Oscar race for Supporting Actor and could stand as one of the year’s best turns.  Spader, who swear-to-God, makes me laugh in just about every scene he’s in.  As Spader stands, he has been criminally ignored for virtually his whole career, WN Bilbo is a performance that stands out in heavy dramatic elements.  Spader is simply spectacular.  Brief, but completely memorable.  It’s a performance that deserves recognition from the nation’s top critics, hopefully they’ll feel compelled to reward him accordingly.

Welcome to the Oscar race, Mr. Tommy Lee Jones…

David Strathairn holds a strong presence in the beginning of the film but plateaus out quickly.  It’s a wonderful company to have as William Seward but not as memorable as his other co-stars.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the “it” guy of the year, makes do with the screen time he has.  Ultimately, it’s a blip of this stellar ensemble.   Michael Stuhlbarg continues to grow as a character actor, showcasing an impressive range time and time again.  Jared Harris is a cool, calming attendance as well as John Hawkes.  Jackie Earle Haley comes in and out with no tremendous liners.  It’s a character that’s written for the driving force of the narrative.  No fault of Haley.  Hal Holbrook gets more meat than his other co-stars but is ultimately out-acted in every way.  Not a performance you take with you.

John Williams’ score is subtle, not as contrived as thought from the trailer but it’s not Star Wars or Schindler’s List by any means.  The film is a strong contender for Production Design with Rick Carter, Jim Erickson, and Peter T. Frank creating gorgeous sets that place us right in the era perfectly.   Janusz Kaminski, one of the best cinematographers working, captures elegant  and stunning shots throughout but eventually doesn’t take enough risks with the lens to be considered an achievement.  You can bet on Makeup with a Sound category or two in the mix.  Day-Lewis is transformed masterfully.

The Oscar question for the film, does it win Best Picture?  It’s very likely a Best Picture nominee and could easily see a large following in the Academy citing the film as the best of the year.  It’s one of the top three films I’ve seen this year.  It’s not a poor choice by any means and Spielberg could definitely be in contention for a third Oscar.  It’s not as good as “Ryan” or “Schindler” but it’s one of his best efforts, period.  He’s on his game in a big way.

The film is splendid, cinematic magic of the highest degree with screenwriter Tony Kushner as the star of the show.  It’s his best theatrical writing effort thus far and a threat in Adapted Screenplay.  The last thirty minutes are the best thirty minutes I’ve seen on film this year.  Lincoln is a near masterpiece.  I can’t imagine a more appropriate way to tell Lincoln’s story than what Spielberg has done here.  Oscar, your move.