It is often believed that political dramas make for exciting films. What if, they are historical? What if, they involve iconic leaders? What if, they are directed by multiple-Academy-award-winning auteurs? What if, the principal character is essayed by a multiple-Academy-award-winning actor? What if, the film, despite being over 2.5 hours long, has enough steam to educate, inspire and move you? Yes, we are talking about Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’, wherein Daniel Day-Lewis plays the 16th President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln.
The film has some of the most impactful cinematic moments of this year. Be it the debates, longish monologues, eerie use of silence, enigmatic conversational dialogue, the film has all the makings to be a memorable political drama. The length could have been cut short a trifle, but the film remains what it was meant to be – Great!
Since it’s a real-life story, there is no ‘plot’ as such. The film revolves around the final four months of Lincoln’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) life in January 1865, focusing on his efforts to have the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution passed by the United States House of Representatives. This Amendment is being proposed in order to formally abolish slavery in the country. While the Civil War is underway, Lincoln is concerned that his 1863 Emancipation Proclamation maybe discarded by the courts once it concludes and the 13th Amendment defeated by the returning slave states . Thus, he wants the amendment to be passed by the end of January, hence removing any possibility that slaves who have already been freed may be re-enslaved. Needless to say, there is opposition from within his party and from outside. The film successfully showcases the various games people play to attain political dominance.
Other pivotal characters of this adaptation include Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn), his wife Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field), the elder son Robert Lincoln (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), W.N Bilbo (James Spader) and Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) among others. The film encompasses terrific dialogues (Tony Kushner, who is also the screenplay writer), a great premise (thanks to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s novel ‘Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln’), breath-taking visuals and superb performances (Lewis, Field, Jones, Spader among others). Special mention must go to the make-up department. No one looks, or acts, out of character. The historic accuracy of the film is open to debate. There are a few historians who have commended Spielberg’s efforts and there are some who have opposed the representation of some facts in the film. However, purely as a historical biopic (even if it comprises the last four months of his life), the film is a must-watch for politics/history/cinema enthusiasts. You may need to have basic knowledge about the American political system for watching this film. While watching this film, one wonders and rues why Indians have not been able to capture the lives of legends such as Gandhi and Nehru as excellently. Nehru is one such political figure whose biopic will make for an interesting watch! Hope someone makes that possible.
Lincoln’s life story was fascinating. His rise from being a poor, self-educated child to become one of the most enigmatic personalities in world history is remarkable. Steven Spielberg’s film just captured the last four months of his life. Imagine if someone were to chronicle his entire life!