Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Day Lewis’

The Sunday review: Lincoln

03/02/2013, 08:00:25 AM

by Anthony Painter

As a director, how can you possibly cope with a figure such as Abraham Lincoln on screen? The most logical projection is to mesh civil war grotesqueness with the oratorical adeptness. Perhaps one could place him in a battle of wills and minds with his confederacy adversary, Jefferson Davis: a man of history doing battle with a man of corrupted vested interests. Some none too subtle allusions to the later pioneers of racial equality could be sprinkled in along the way – maybe the distant voices of a Luther King or even a Barack Obama could be dropped in. The gruesome life of a slave could be depicted and reminders that America’s third president – Thomas Jefferson – took a slave concubine (his late wife’s half sister) could be referenced.

To be perfectly honest, all of this is exactly what was to be expected once Steven Spielberg took on the challenge of re-introducing us to America’s most brilliant yet enigmatic president – post founding fathers that is. And somehow, despite himself, Spielberg mostly avoids the obvious pitfalls. Spielberg is a director who does schmaltzy and effect-heavy kids films with a certain panache and treats adults as if they are kids- with honourable exceptions such as Schlinder’s List. Not this time.

Instead, Spielberg focuses our gaze on the character of the man himself. For that to work would require a method actor of sublime capacity. You’d need someone like Daniel Day-Lewis. That is precisely who Spielberg persuaded to do the role. The brilliance of this biopic is that from the outset the director draws us simultaneously into the world of wartime political intrigue and the character of the man who found it his responsibility to navigate the republic through civil war with its union intact and slavery abolished. Everything I have ever read about the character of Lincoln was there in this on-screen play- for that is what it is.


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