Review: Lincoln (12A)

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Sometimes a great movie does not necessarily make the grade as a particularly exciting one.

By virtue of its subject matter – President Abe Lincoln fights to deliver America’s ‘Negroes’ from slavery as the civil war nears its end – Lincoln, as conceived by Steven Spielberg, is a mighty period spectacle.

Yet it requires patience to fully appreciate this slow-moving behemoth as the President seeks to manipulate not just his enemies but also those within his own party.

It would be churlish to suggest that Lincoln does not deserve its 12 Oscar nominations. Each one is deserved. However, there is the sneaking suspicion that the film does not equal the sum of its parts.

A multitudinous cast including James Spader, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones and Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln bring something close to illumination to a tortuous story that has as its backdrop the sniping and back-biting of any political arena.

That dry politicising is as much to the detriment of the film as it is to its benefit, for Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner choose to focus not on the action of the war but on the actions of a few good men striving for the greater good.

History tells us that Abraham Lincoln spoke not in deep, stentorian tones but in fact had a soft, reedy voice. In adopting it, that stickler for detail Daniel Day-Lewis gives a mesmerising portrait of how the towering 6ft 4ins Kentucky lawyer may have sounded.

Physically Day-Lewis is perfect as the ungainly, stooped, tall and thin man, eloquent and logical but with a sly means of getting what he wanted. And he looks the part. His emerges as an authoritative rendering in the mould of previous players such as Raymond Massey and is rightly nominated for an Academy Award.

Of the rest of the cast the plaudits (and the remaining Oscar nominations) go to Tommy Lee Jones, scene-stealing as Thaddeus Stevens, the sarcastic leader of the Radical Republican faction of the Republican party, and Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, a genuine power behind the throne.

A mighty subject deserves suitably mighty treatment. However Spielberg’s touch may have deserted him with Lincoln, which, while a big picture, is also a tedious one.

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