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That Steven Spielberg can transform a parliamentary vote, albeit a nation changing one, into two and a half hours of riveting cinema says almost as much about the man who led the cause as it does the director himself. Rather than present a sprawling biography about America's most influential leader, Spielberg forms a tight focus on Abraham Lincoln's most significant achievement: abolishing slavery and by extension, bringing the Civil War to an end. No mean feat.

Lincoln opens with a young nation tearing itself apart. In familiar style with crisp story-telling through stunning, dense vision, Spielberg establishes the tone of what's to come. It's period drama certainly, but there's also a documentary quality to the way in which screenwriter Tony Kushner (Munich) presents Lincoln, his family, his confidents, his colleagues and his opponents. Against a backdrop of turmoil – not only was the South tearing apart the union, but America was grappling with immense change economically, socially and culturally – their President wanted to turn everything on its head. The heart that gave him courage to navigate this maelstrom, another recurring theme for Spielberg, is his family: forceful wife (Sally Field), determined elder son (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and the playful innocence of his youngest boy.

Much has been made of Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln and it is undoubtedly the jewel in his already glittering crown. Not only does the two-times Oscar winner, now gearing up for a hat-trick, bear a striking physical resemblance to the President, he embodies all that we've come to know of the man, from muted compassion to determined leadership. But he's not alone. Sally Field commands attention as his conflicted wife, David Strathairn is compelling as his dogmatic Secretary of State. There's a raft of equally magnetic personalities in support, and there's not a flawed performance to be seen.

If there is criticism, and it’s hard to find significant fault with this near perfect epic, it’s in the anecdotal nature of Kushner’s screenplay. There are a number of scenes in which Lincoln and those around him pause to dwell on the state of play. In creating this series of vignettes, the organic possibilities of the greater narrative are disturbed. Of course, this tendency for story-telling may well be the mark of the man, and they do afford sublime moments which are brilliantly realised by cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Saving Private Ryan). As ever, every frame is a work of art.

Lincoln is a memorable portrait of a great leader, one that also captures in mesmerising detail an era bursting with passion, hope and inspiration. It was a moment in history that marked the birth of a nation, and modern democracy with it. Appropriately, this will be one of the year's best films.


Previewed at Cinema Paris, Entertainment Quarter, Sydney on Saturday 2 February 2013
moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks

Lincoln (2012) on IMDb

Daniel Day-Lewis
Sally Field
David Strathairn
Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Steven Spielberg

Tony Kushner


M / 150 minutes

February 7, 2013
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