Lincoln had a lot of pressure to be an amazing film: one of the greatest actors of our generation portraying an iconic figure during one of the most important moments in history, and directed by the untouchable Steven Spielberg. Throw in a stellar supporting cast including Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field plus twelve Oscar nominations and you’ll see why it’s hard not to enter the cinema with high expectations.
Running at a two and half hours, the best way to determine whether a film justifies its length is to ask the question: does it feel long while watching? And at first Lincoln does. I was aware of a lot of shifting on seats and fidgeting with empty sweet packets from the audience around me. And the fact I noticed this meant I wasn’t exactly glued to screen.
The film is masterfully made. The lighting is beautiful, the camera work exemplary and the acting five-star so it’s hard to explain why it was difficult to become engaged. The primary thing that prevents the first section of the film being (and it pains me to use the word at all in this review) boring, is Daniel Day-Lewis. When exiting the cinema, I overheard the commentary of a couple as they loudly remarked that his performance as Lincoln confirmed Day-Lewis as “an average actor who is blessed with great roles.” Was I unknowingly watching a separate performance? Rather than attempt to throw adjectives at the performance, I’ll say simply that Day-Lewis became Lincoln. It’s unsurprising that the man who lived as an invalid on the set of My Left Foot to convincingly play a man with cerebral palsy also did rigorous research for his role as Abraham Lincoln – reportedly reading over one hundred books about the man. Day-Lewis already has two Oscars under his belt, but I for one wouldn’t be unhappy if he took home another at the upcoming academy awards.
Lincoln may be slow at first but thankfully, it’s worth the wait. I’m not one to write-off a film within the first thirty minutes, but never did I expect to become as absorbed as I was by the end of the film. It takes a talented director to have you holding your breath for an outcome you already know, yet during the scene when the thirteenth amendment is voted on I could have been right there in the room myself awaiting the verdict. Film gives us the opportunity to see iconic moments in history replayed, and so wonderfully presented to the viewer is Lincoln that frankly, I felt almost honoured. It may only be a taste, but one could almost believe they were witnessing history.
Film scores are often overlooked, yet secretly plays one of the most important roles. It feels an obligation to highlight John Williams’ tremendous soundtrack, as beautiful and suited to the film as any of his previous collaborations with Spielberg.
The ending of the film is hardly a surprise, yet when the inevitable was announced in the theatre (made all the more powerful by the fact the viewer is also sitting in one) a pang rippled through both audiences. Lincoln ends on a strange note that leaves the viewer ricocheting between sad and uplifted emotions. Focussing on the more inspirational aspects of the film, Lincoln is more than just an outstanding historical drama: in a world where equality for many is still being strived for, Lincoln is a much-needed reminder of how far civilisation has come and the impact one person can have.
Images courtesy of the official Lincoln website, sourced by Devon Williams.