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Spielberg’s Lincoln dives into the details of our most revered president

click to enlarge Go ahead and hand him the Oscar now.
  • Go ahead and hand him the Oscar now.

Talk about your timely movies, this one couldn’t have been released on a better date, so close to a recent contentious and contemporary political event.

Steven Spielberg’s peek into the home- and work-life of Abraham Lincoln begins in January, 1865. The Civil War was entering its fourth year, and Lincoln was about to start his second term as president. The first sights are of a brutal battle — of combat fought with guns and swords and bayonets and fists. At battle’s end, there’s an eerie calmness as President Lincoln arrives to sit and chat with his Union soldiers.

But on top of the war, and family disorder at the White House, Lincoln was also dealing with the Emancipation Proclamation. You, who didn’t pay attention back in seventh grade history, might want to Google it. Hint: It was about the slave question, and it was Lincoln’s baby, the Obamacare of the day. It had already passed in the Senate, but the House was, well, it was as divided then as it is now.

Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, and adapted by Tony Kushner, Lincoln looks at the backbiting, pandering and political shenanigans going on behind closed doors, as well as in congressional sessions. This is not a bio-pic. It covers only four months in Lincoln’s life, but it sure gives us insight into what made him tick...as president, husband, father.

Daniel Day-Lewis will earn an Oscar nomination. His Lincoln is a big, lumbering figure, carrying both an aura of peace and a world of worry on his face. He sometimes even has a twinkle in his eye, most often just as he’s about to tell a story, either to make a point or just for the pure pleasure it gave him. It’s an assured, understated performance.

Oh, and keep on Googlin’. Get to know William Seward (David Strathairn) and Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones, a supporting Oscar nomination shoo-in).

Some may find the script a little too talky; others might fret about the long pauses, during which both viewers and characters are waiting for someone, anyone, to say something important. But no one will have a problem with Spielberg’s career-long interest in faces. He lets his cameras linger on them, challenging us to figure out what they’re thinking, or just letting us look at them in all of their big screen glory. And Lincoln is a film filled with fascinating faces.

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