Whenever watching a Spielberg movie there’s always a waiting feeling for something dramatic and exhilarating.
In Lincoln that sentiment lingers long in telling the story of what is principally only a portion of Abe’s presidential time; spectacle gives way to dwelling and contemplation.
Addressing Lincoln’s fight to pass the thirteenth amendment, hastiness would appear to be a luxury ill afforded as the long civil war still rages on. The borrowed time and freedom given to America’s wartime slaves by Abe’s famous proclamation, with ceasefire imminent, primes all of congress to debate liberty for all and forever.
It’s the central historic significance at the heart of Spielberg’s near epic telling that restrains itself from flair and dramatization and perhaps for the better, a deviation for the master director appearing to enter a new phase of leisurely storytelling.
He is steadfast in his remit though, integrity being the key objective in telling the story of one of America’s greatest statesman, just like Daniel Day Lewis’ principal in yet another consuming lead.
His methods are now legendary and in playing Abe, Lewis is handed more to chew than ever, delivering Tony Kushner’s screenplay with much musing and lamentation in his most historically weighty role.
Stretched beneath a facia of composure, it’s an undemonstrative portrayal, demands of authority and respect are few, his popularity as a man of the people so earned it, Lincoln’s best and warmest scenes are saved in counsel with the everyman.
Supported by a superb cast, performances all around the antagonistic congress are of the highest quality, chiefly Tommy Lee Jones, verbally thrashing the prejudice opposition and worthy of award nomination as the unsung life campaigning hero for emancipation.
Wifely Sally Field brings home the trauma of war felt by all, damaged by the loss of her own son and others countless, bringing seldom seen anguish for hubby Abraham and a glimpse of the inner turmoil of a leader gambling on liberation for all while hundreds die daily in his patience.
Lincoln is methodical, evenly paced and almost laborious. The close quarters focus on The White House’s grey innards and political manoeuvring of a divided congress provides little opportunity for flamboyance or melodrama; The respectful restraint of a filmmaker indicating the significance of matters unfolding if any reminder were needed.
Spielberg lets history and supreme acting tell its own story, resisting his natural ostentatious tendencies, but any gain by his economy is squandered by an over-long runtime and a plethora of procrastinating chat.
Not quite epic either, the grandeur is parked with the intimate focus on matters of the house limiting the scope of the drama of the battlefield, bookending political intricacies with an opening clash before and a decimated prairie revisited later; Intentional perhaps then, once more testament to the diligence to choose to tell the most important part of America’s most significant story.