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With: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson, Joseph Cross, Jared Harris, Lee Pace, Peter McRobbie, Michael Stuhlbarg, Lukas Haas
Written by: Tony Kushner, based in part on a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language
Running Time: 149
Date: 07/10/2012

Lincoln (2012)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

An Honest Abe

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner, of Angels in America, wrote the new movie Lincoln, filling roughly 145 of its 149 minutes with dialogue. In maybe four scenes, characters can be witnessed actually doing something rather than saying something.

However, director Steven Spielberg is one of our best, and he nonetheless makes the movie come alive, like eavesdropping on history.

Rather than a lengthy biopic about the 16th president, Lincoln focuses on a few months' time between January and April of 1865, the beginning of the president's second term.

He is determined to pass the 13th amendment of the Constitution, which abolishes slavery and thereby ends the bloody Civil War between the Union and the Confederacy.

Like a more concentrated, detailed episode of "The West Wing," the movie also spends time on a colorful gallery of supporting players, calculating how to get the vote passed and targeting the potential swing voters with whatever deals (or threats) they can manage.

Spielberg uses this fascinating passing of information to make Lincoln move.

At the center of the movie is Abraham Lincoln himself, played by Daniel Day-Lewis. It's the kind of command performance that wins awards, heavily researched and with heavy make-up, but Day-Lewis expertly balances confidence, pain, and weariness for a roundly human experience.

Better still, Spielberg and his crew create an impure, unkempt world, filled with cigar smoke, scattered papers, and empty teacups, with most of the light coming from fireplaces and windows. Characters look as if they have never primped in the mirror; hairstyles are uneven. Clothes are rumpled.

If President Woodrow Wilson once said of The Birth of a Nation that it was "like writing history with lightning," then Spielberg has done away with lightning and merely opened a doorway.

Watching Lincoln's politics in progress, and even knowing the outcome, is practically addicting; passion and logic bash heads, until, somehow, something good comes of it all.

As Thaddeus Stevens, the representative from Pennsylvania, Tommy Lee Jones has perhaps the showiest -- and, occasionally, funniest -- character role. His speechifying about equality makes it sound legally enticing, if not exactly politically correct.

Perhaps the best part of Lincoln is that, rather than a total show of hero worship, Kushner and Spielberg allow for human foibles to enter into the fray.

Indeed, if the screenplay had been any less wordy, it might perhaps have tilted into simplicity. As it stands, Lincoln is a rare, intelligent, adult piece of work.
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