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Capone found Spielberg's LINCOLN a riveting character study and fascinating profile of divisive politics!!!

Published at: Nov. 9, 2012, 1:21 a.m. CST by Capone

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.

The plain and simple truth about Steven Spielberg's account of the last few months of Abraham Lincoln's life is that there's nothing plain and simple about it. Some may accuse the proceedings of being highfalutin due to Tony Kushner's (ANGELS IN AMERICA, MUNICH) magnificently realized screenplay, but the way these words roll off the tongues of this unbelievable collection of actors makes is like listening to fine poetry at times. During other, more vitriolic scenes, the script reminds us that dirty politics and lies told to sway a Congressional vote are not a product of the modern age. But what will ultimately sway you one way or the other on LINCOLN is the performance of Daniel Day-Lewis, whose commitment to inhabiting this character is unprecedented (unless you've seen him act before). By the way, anyone who gets lost in a discussion of the voice that Day-Lewis has chosen for the 16th president has really and truly missed the point. For the record, the voice is fantastic.

Rather than skim across the surface of Lincoln's life from childhood through his early years in politics and on to the White House, LINCOLN wisely zeroes in on the president's attempt to end the Civil War and get the abolition of slavery added as an amendment to the Constitution. Washington, D.C., was a whirlwind of activity for those critical weeks, when it seemed all but certain that Lincoln would not have the votes necessary to get the amendment put in place. As much as people may focus on the many great moments in the film that deal with the president's personal life, the most enthralling moments in the movie are the politics. A team of three men (played by an extra sleazy James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson) who did everything in their power (shady and otherwise) to secure the votes needed in the Senate. Their wheelings and dealings, along with their rather humorous times giving Lincoln progress reports, are some of the finest moments in the film.

Some of the best moments in Lincoln don't even feature the man himself. Every time Tommy Lee Jones' Thaddeus Stevens is on screen, the world is a better place...as is the film. Stevens not only wants slaves free but he wants them to be declared as equals to whites—a very unpopular opinion, even among Lincoln supporters. Much of this film lays witness to the slow and painful erosion of Stevens' moral center in the name of getting this amendment passed. Fernando Wood (Lee Pace, showing a unusual amount of backbone and venom) is Stevens' main opponent ("What sort of chaos and societal collapse would ensue if all the negroes were suddenly set free at once?" seems to be his primary argument.), and their battles on the floor of the Senate are spectacular.

Which is not to say that Lincoln's family turmoil isn't gripping as well. His discussions with wife Mary (Sally Field) are... colorful. His eldest son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is threatening to join the military just to make something of his life and not simply stand on the sidelines of history. There's more than a hint that Lincoln conceded on certain points just so the war would be over, and his son wouldn't have to go to battle. I was particularly impressed with Gloria Reuben's performance as Elizabeth Keckley, a freed slave who became Mrs. Lincoln's personal seamstress and closest confidante. Her role in the Lincoln household was clearly an important one, and Reuben plays her with a quiet nobility that gives her a great deal of significance in this story.

It seems like nearly every single speaking part in LINCOLN has been given to an actor of note, including the likes of David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook, Bruce McGill, Jared Harris (particularly enjoyable as Ulysses S. Grant), Jackie Earle Haley and even "Girls" star Adam Driver, who shares one notably fine scene with Day-Lewis that can only be described as a reality check moment for the president. Aside from the insight into politics and Lincoln's family life, the other impressive aspect to the film is how it penetrates the working mind of this great thinker. He apparently had a habit of talking through every major life decision, even to the point where he changes his stance on an issue by simply speaking with and listening to those around him. It's a fascinating process to behold, especially the way Day-Lewis infuses Lincoln's soul with what must have felt like the weight of the world.

That being said, Spielberg and Kushner find moments to lighten the mood so that LINCOLN doesn't feel like a burden to watch (or even worse, homework). There are occasionally moments when the film feels so dense as to almost break your brain, but if you can make it through those moments, what you'll find is a gorgeously realized (thanks to director of photography Janusz Kaminski really taking advantage of natural lighting and maximizing dramatic shadows), wonderfully acted and smartly composed chronicle of arguably one of the most important era in American history, anchored by a man who was rarely 100 percent certain of his choices but had a clear vision of the way history would judge us.

-- Steve Prokopy
"Capone"
capone@aintitcool.com
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