There have only been five actors to win three or more competitive Oscars for performance. They are Walter Brennan, Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Jack Nicholson and most recently Meryl Streep; make room for Daniel Day Lewis. His performance as the 16th President is transcendent.
Day Lewis works from the inside and isn’t interested in imitation. He simply is Lincoln. He not only humanizes Lincoln, but within this humanization he illustrates that all heroes are people first and heroism is a constant struggle, it's a flow between difficult choices, conscience, courage, failures and successes. Also, often leadership equates to loneliness. About one third of the way into the film I became very excited; I finally knew our 16th president!
I am not a Sally Field fan, she is too overbearing and weepy for me and I only see Sally Field in every performance. Yes she was fantastic in Norma Rae, which played upon her tough underdog persona, but since then she has not been an imaginative performer. However in Lincoln, she benefits from being cannily cast. Mary Todd was nervous, nutty, overly emotional, yet steely, just like Sally Field. One moment she is vulnerable and fragile and the next minute she is whispering menacing threats to congressmen and even the commander in chief, her put upon husband. This is clearly her best performance since her Oscar win in Norma Rae and she will likely receive her third Oscar nomination for playing Mary Todd Lincoln.
The rest of the cast is stellar and includes such heavyweights as James Spader, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Jason Gordon-Levitt, Jackie Earle Haley and veteran Hal Holbrook. It was also great to see Lee Pace, an actor’s whose career I have been following for a while.
Although the film is about a very important person in American history and about an even more important event in history, Lincoln has an intimacy about it, not usually seen in Spielberg’s films. It is character driven and is more about people than gadgets, animals, chase sequences and explosions. There are a few scenes where Spielberg’s epic aspirations and grand scope threatens to take over briefly, but he doesn’t seem too interested in making an opus here.
Spielberg has always been a great collaborator and here his two greatest co-workers are screenwriter Tony Kushner and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. Kushner’s screenplay is a masterpiece of language which balances scenes of political grandeur, back-biting and private family strife. This ability to blend the close-up of everyday life with the wide angle of history that is unfolding around the intimate drama is Kushner’s forte. After all, he did this beautifully in his Pulitzer Prize winning play Angels in America.
Kaminski’s cinematography is breathtaking. Full of memorable imagery, accurate historical colors and brilliant lights and darks, it captures nineteenth civil war Washington, as if you were there. This isn’t a film to see at home on DVD, it is meant to be seen on the big screen, where Kaminski’s gorgeous compositions reach their full potential and you are left with stunning visuals, like masterpiece paintings from a well endowed museum.
Lincoln is a must for history buffs, and for all Americans who need a hero, and that would be all of us. It is an important movie. See it!