Monday, 21 January 2013

Lincoln, dir. Steven Spielberg, scr. Tony Kushner, based on "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin, st. Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones

The American poet John Godfrey Saxe once famously said, "Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made", but whereas the recent news that our supermarkets have been filling up our sausages with this and that, Thénardier-style, might put the kibsoh on Spielberg's planned banger biopic, we still have Lincoln, his Saxe-defying, three hour dissection of how constitutional law is constructed. Scripted by Tony Kushner, author of Angels In America, and engineered by Spielberg's usual team of Kennedy, Kamiński, Williams, and Kahn, this is probably his most unSpielbergian picture to date. There are virtually none of the iconic visual or stylistic flourishes that pepper his earlier canon. Even the sombre Munich back in 2005, with its carefully marked sense of cultural and political period was clearly delineated as his, albeit maturing, work. Here, for the most part, we have Lincoln in dark rooms of greys, browns and blacks, surrounded by his team, strategising how best to push through the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution and abolish slavery for all time. The opposition he meets is considerable. As ever, when viewed from an era of (relative) political enlightenment, ("What next, giving women the vote?!"), we marvel at our ignorance then, but with Obama currently attempting to push through similar constitution-ammending legislation in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, and the fierce antagonism that has since emanated from the Republican National Committee and the NRA, we see clearly illustrated patterns that reach right back through history - the fear of change, the rejection of progress, the safety of the status quo. Whilst Lincoln is dense, wordy, and possibly overlong, it's also riveting, in a kind of hypnotic way, but more than this, Daniel Day-Lewis, craggy and goateed, turns in a performance of such grace and passion; a later scene in the film in which the President tours the battlefield at Petersburg, Virginia is beautifully choreographed and scored, Lincoln's face a picture of desolation, his trademark imposing height reduced to a shattered slump as he sits astride his horse and wends his way through a field of soldiers gutted and gone. Ultimately, Spielberg and Day-Lewis are surely dead certs for Oscar glory and Lincoln is every bit the stately, ennobling, heritage film it should be.