Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

February 9, 2013

Revisiting history

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 12:52 am

February 08, 2013

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook, James Spader

Director: Steven Spielberg

Lincoln is what you might describe as a biopic with a difference. Director Steven Spielberg chooses to train the camera on the last four months of America’s beloved (sixteenth) President Abraham Lincoln’s life in 1865, as he endeavors, with almost superhuman effort, to abolish slavery before the Civil War ends. We don’t see a young Abe Lincoln; this is a stately, fatherly President, going off into rambling stories to elucidate a point or spending sleepless nights wandering around the White House while he worries about his nation and grieves over his dead son.

And yet, this is an unforgettable portrait of a man who rewrote history, mainly because actor Daniel Day-Lewis steps into the President’s shoes and feels the character in his bones.

The film itself is dense and difficult to work through, steeped as it is in talky scenes as Lincoln tries every trick in his book, including horse-trading and some twisting of facts, to get the amendment passed. Despite Oscar-nominated writer Tony Kushner’s wonderful wordplay, you often feel as if you’re trapped in a classroom, wrestling with dry history.

Things pick up in the second half as the House debates the proposed Bill, and Spielberg works in tense drama into the scenes of final vote-counting. Much of this has to do with Tommy Lee Jones’s electric performance as radical anti-slavery Congressman Thaddeus Stevens; the actor walks away with all the best lines and moments. Sally Field as Lincoln’s wife Mary, and the mother-in-mourning, does a fine job, but it’s hard even for an actress of her caliber to not be overshadowed in the presence of Daniel Day-Lewis.

Here is a man born to play Lincoln with all his layers; an adored President, a man so tormented by the Civil War that he  “ages ten years in four”, a raconteur, a clever politician and a father both playful and stern to his sons. What stays with you in the end, is Lincoln’s steely moral compass – so focused on abolishing the inhuman practice of slavery that he poured every bit of himself into that ambition.

I’m going with three and a half out of five for Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. It’s far from an easy watch, but its important story and the towering central performance demands that you make time for it.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)


  1. Truly a great movie and above all hats off to Daniel Day Lewis for getting so nicely into the skin of the character,
    that you never feel for once that he is just acting and not the real president.Deserves Best Actor Oscar..Overall a nice and inspiring movie and a good review.

    Comment by Himanshu — February 9, 2013 @ 1:11 am

  2. 3.5??….. I wud have given it 2.5..damn it was boring…ADMIT IT!

    Comment by indranuj — February 9, 2013 @ 1:39 am

  3. Daniel Day Lewis is astonishing…His portrayal of Christy Brown in My Left Foot still gives me goosebumps.. See I don’t have anything personal against any of the bollywood stars,but whenever they try to emote a physically or mentally challenged character they end up doing unnecessary caricatures(except I think Nana Patekar and Sima Biswas in Khamoshi and only Ranbir Kapoor in Barfi,only Ranbir Kapoor NOT PRIYANKA).I think they should watch more and more western movies where these kind of characters are played so effortlessly that sometimes people forget its not real.. There is one more movie that is Geoffrey Rush’s Quils where mentally challenged characters were played so effectively yet in a very under toned way..Any way come to the movie Lincoln,before even going to the theater I knew Daniel would do full justice to the role.. February 2010 I went to Springfield,IL(USA) and I went to Lincoln library ,I must say one thing Lincoln was almost God like..So guys without hesitating go and watch cinematic magic happening in front of your eyes,and even if somebody doesnt quite know about Lincoln or American history should not miss this offering..

    Comment by indrani — February 9, 2013 @ 8:19 am

  4. I didnt know a lot of stuff about the civil war before watching Lincoln but inspite of that the movie did hook me. Daniel day Lewis is terrific but for me it’s Tommy Lee Jones all the way. Whether this movie should win the Oscar? No. Zero Dark Thirty and Argo were far more superior and engaging films. But from what it looks like the academy is desperate to give Spielberg his third Oscar.

    Comment by Aditya. K — February 9, 2013 @ 8:52 am

  5. It was a beautiful movie. As Lincoln tries his level best to convinve the 20 people to vote in favor of the Amendment, a powerful message is communicated. That hope is always alive even when the days are dark. Lincoln represents a monument of confidence and might that cannot be easily shattered. But then if you ask the question – What makes the movie work? Your answer is Daniel Day-Lewis and not Spielberg or even the screenplay. Spielberg relies way too much on the audience’s knowledge of American history. Same thing happened with his previous movie Munich.

    Comment by takshak — February 9, 2013 @ 9:56 am

  6. Really excellent review. Looking forward to watch this film just for DDL.

    Comment by Gaurav — February 9, 2013 @ 10:49 am

  7. truly a brilliant film! arguably Speilberg’s best directorial 🙂 good review, i would give it 4.

    Comment by Arjun Krishnamurthy — February 12, 2013 @ 1:31 pm

  8. Actually It was “10 years of aging in one year” if you are quoting it from the movie. And the possible reason along with the war can be his son’s death too.

    Comment by amitabh — February 14, 2013 @ 3:28 pm

  9. @ takshak You are right. The events and some of the words were hard to follow. But it could not have made explanatory. Now that we know the history in the first watch. We can get more from the movie when we watch it the second time.

    Comment by amitabh — February 14, 2013 @ 3:31 pm

  10. day lewis may be the greatest actor since marlon brando..atleast i think so..
    @Arjun Krishnamurthy…spielberg best direction is shindlers list..this is not even close

    Comment by shrish — February 24, 2013 @ 7:03 pm

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