Movie review: 'Lincoln' focuses on political struggle over slavery

BY GEORGE LANG Published: November 16, 2012

Day-Lewis' resonant portrayal of Lincoln serves as the obvious centerpiece, but Spielberg assembled a cast of supporting players that reads like a hall of fame for modern character actors, including Jones, Spader, Hawkes, Nelson, McGill, Chickasha-born Lee Pace, David Costabile (“Breaking Bad”), Jared Harris (“Mad Men”), David Strathairn, Walton Goggins, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael Stuhlbarg and Hal Holbrook.

It is a male-dominated story, but Sally Field's performance as Mary Todd Lincoln is a model of exposed nerves and sadness as she continues to mourn the 1862 death of son Willie, tries in vain to keep oldest son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) from enlisting in the Union Army and battles her bipolar disorder as Washington society whispers around her.

While there is some expectation that a film about Lincoln must also be a film about the Civil War, Spielberg takes the uncommon approach of having the war operate as a subtext and framing device, and it works.

Lincoln knew that his best hope of passing the amendment was to do so before the war ended, and while war imagery constitutes a slim fraction of the film's running time, it is always there in gathering creases of Lincoln's countenance. Spielberg, Kushner and Day-Lewis zero in on the president's deft balance of moral responsibility, political courage and skill at political gamesmanship in “Lincoln,” and the result is a fresh look at a man most people think they already know.

George Lang

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PG-132:293½ stars

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Jackie Earle Haley, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

(An intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language)


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