December 6, 2012

'Lincoln' completely compelling historical drama


---- — Didn’t get enough of Honest Abe in “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”? Well, does Steven Spielberg ever have a blockbuster sequel for you!

OK, so maybe “Lincoln” doesn’t actually involve battle with any manner of undead creatures. Instead, it’s a witty and intelligent historical drama that looks at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history.

Directed by Spielberg and perfectly crafted by playwright Toni Kushner (“Angels in America”), “Lincoln” covers the final four months of our 16th president’s life, focusing on his battle to get the 13th Amendment — the abolition of slavery — passed.

Though set during the closing stages of the Civil War, the film doesn’t show any battle scenes after the opening few minutes, instead concentrating on the epic backroom struggle to push the 13th Amendment through the House of Representatives.

That’s right: it’s a two-and-a-half hour movie about the intricacies of the political process, and it’s completely compelling.

Daniel Day-Lewis is brilliant in the title role. Clopping awkwardly around the White House and using a thin voice that nevertheless demands attention, the Englishman truly disappears into Abraham Lincoln. He’s an affable, amusing storyteller who lets his youngest son push him around, but he’s fiercely determined. He’s folksy, but also calculating and pragmatic.

Only a performance like Day-Lewis’s could avoid being overshadowed by the delightfully bombastic show put on by Tommy Lee Jones as aging congressman Thaddeus Stevens, the most radical abolitionist in the liberal Republican party.

Though Jones steals all of his scenes, the rest of the supporting cast is uniformly excellent. Sally Field is the president’s high-strung wife. Joseph Gordon Levitt is the eldest son, bitter about being kept from enlisting in the military.

David Strathairn shines as Secretary of State William Seward, who both fights Lincoln and determinedly pushes through the president’s agenda.

Providing many of the laughs — in a film that has more than one might expect — are James Spader, John Hawks and Tim Blake Nelson, as three mildly shady operatives enlisted to cajole racist democrats into voting for the president’s legislation.

Spielberg does a masterful job of presenting Lincoln as a real person — one who is admirable, but not perfect. He also manages to bring suspense to a moment in history in which we all know the outcome.

“Lincoln” crackles with good dialogue and ideals — and it makes the viewer feel good to be an American. It won’t be forgotten come Oscar time.

Rental Recommendation: To get the battle stuff, and quite a bit more of Robert E. Lee, there’s nothing better than “Gettysburg.” Grade: A+

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Grade: A Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones

Rated: PG-13 (for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language)

Running time: 150 minutes