Lincoln: A sublime thriller?


I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have.” - Abraham Lincoln

Steven Spielberg might as well have Lincoln’s quote on hand in response to talk of Academy Awards for his latest movie.

I probably read more than 20 reviews before heading out for a midnight viewing of Lincoln starring Daniel Day-Lewis. None of them prepared me for the experience.

“Wordy” kept ringing in my ears heading in.

Most of us have had a more intimate relationship with Spielberg than the remote Lincoln, a Daguerreotype framed in our memory, even though Abraham Lincoln’s historical ranking as President is usually numero uno.

My first dates with Spielberg were on television, a 1969 episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery and 1971’s nail-biting Duel. It’s been a rocky road ever since. I have found Spielberg a skilful manipulator of the audience's emotions. Calculated perfection. And yes, I’m including E. T. and Schindler's List. At the other end of the spectrum is the torturous Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

If “Wordy” for Spielberg’s Lincoln is translated a sublime, brilliant, engaging, quiet thriller, it’s a good description.

More on Spielberg in a moment.

Tony Kushner of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Angels in America wrote the screenplay based on historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s bestseller Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. It is letter perfect. No small task. I was engaged from the first moment and my attention never wavered a second.

Day-Lewis has reinvented himself yet again. He makes Meryl Streep’s choices in roles typecasting in comparison. His performance is astounding.

There is a scene between Day-Lewis and Sally Field (as the fierce Mary Todd Lincoln) that is gut-wrenching and as true a moment as any I have seen in my life.

Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, Hal Holbrook are also all in peak form here. I actually appreciated every single performance in the film.

It’s truly odd to find Justin Trudeau make a cameo appearance. Oh, it’s not him really but would that he had the charisma and passion of his look-a-like here Lee Pace [Photo right]. (We’ll see...the jury is still out.)

Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is stunning as is Rick Carter’s production design.

And Spielberg....well, he is invisible. All of his signatures Gone With The Wind. I say that because Spielberg’s vision of the Civil War puts that old classic to shame. There’s a moment that communicates the true horror of war in a way that was as shocking as seeing Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes)shooting randomly from his window simply out of boredom in Shindler’s List. Here the shock is the “throw away moment” -- in more ways than one.

Amazing restraint. Well that is until the end.

I have one bone to pick. Lincoln should have ended before it did. Without giving an artistic spoiler away (since historically, you know how it ends!), look for a scene that telegraphs something which at that time was impossible to know. And the film’s final frame should have happened seconds after this moment. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.

But see it you must. I could see it again tomorrow!

I can only imagine what must swirl around in the mind of republicans watching Lincoln. Could there be a single one that sits in the theatre wistfully thinking, what if Romney had won?

Lincoln is for one hundred percent of the theatre-going public; not just forty-seven percent.

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Donald D’Haene is Online Theatre Editor of The Beat Magazine. Join us at The 4th Beat DISH Awards...Info and ticket link here: