Lincoln (2012) infuses life into the history books; unlike any other on this topic. This winner from Steven Speilberg is a delight for historians as much as the Oscar jury. With a total of 12 nominations that include Best Picture, Best Direction, Best performance in the lead and supporting roles, Lincoln leads the race for the Oscars (85th Annual Academy Awards).

As the American civil war (1861-1865) between the United States (Union/North) and the Confederate States (Confederacy/South) draws to an end, it puts a nation and it’s leader through a great test – one that will define both for the time to come. This biopic vividly captures the dynamics leading to one of the most proud moments of American history and perhaps the world as well.

During the course of the war, Abraham Lincoln exercised his warpowers to pass the Emancipation Proclamation – a temporary war-period arrangement that liberates (not having to return back to their masters) the captured slaves. While Lincoln was captivated with the idea of abolishing slavery, the confederate states and a large majority of the congress do not share his enthusiasm. The people too look at the arrangement as an act of negotiated peace than a permanent solution.

As the war reaches its final days, Lincoln is fully aware that his and warpowers will end and the judicial reversal of the Proclamation inevitable. He has to push for the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US constitution thereby formally abolishing slavery. Lincoln has to walk a tight rope. Not only does he have to convince the Congress against the popular sentiment, but also race against the time to get it done. If the forces of the South surrender before ratification, they will most likely negotiate to keep their slaves – a condition that his cabinet won’t mind.

In the end, it comes to either winning the civil war or abolishing slavery. But not both. This equation opens up the plot for some very interesting drama.

Can Lincoln kill two birds with one stone? Can he push an idea before it’s time has come? How will he convince the Congress against the popular sentiment? 

Will he pursue unconstitutional means in getting the constitution amended? Will he keep the war going, endure loss of lives and money to buy more time? Can he keep the war updates a secret untill the voting?

And well, add to all this the turbulence in his own personal life; strained emotions with his wife and son.

Why this movie works:
As it is evident, there are several parameters and people influencing the the dynamics and each one of them connected to every other. Lincoln (2012) shines not only for the immense research that has gone into the script but also for how intriguingly these nuances are dramatized. Director Steven Spielberg asserts his genius yet again in binding the several threads of the story to the common end.

The acting department is a powerhouse to say the least. Lincoln is popularly known to be calm, composed and confident. But Daniel Day-Lewis (2 time Oscar winner) takes you on an exploration of Lincoln-the-lesser-known and the grey shades of his personality. The president hops from being an inspiring leader to a perturbed father, a repenting husband, an advocate, a negotiator and at times, even being a dictator. As the movie explores the twin faces of the president, the vivid portrayal of the Lincoln’s character is clearly the high point of the movie.

Daniel Lewis fits right into the role – in form and character. His humanization of the legend – all his confusion and conviction truly deserves a third Oscar. 

The acting from the supporting cast is equally brilliant. Sally Field (2 time Oscar winner) is cast as the first lady and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the rebellious son. David Strathairn plays the Secretary of State and Tommy Lee Jones (Oscar winner) plays Thaddeus Stevens, one of the party leaders who has a difference of opinion with Lincoln.

The technical aspects of the production are also top notch. The lighting and sets takes to back to the 19th century and the war scenes are as real as they can get. In the end, Lincoln (2012), is a winner and deserves half a dozen awards at the 85th Academy Awards. If you enjoyed Steven Spielberg‘s Schindler’s List and Munich. you’ll most certainly like this too.

However, it might take a bit of patience to appreciate the nuances. After all, the civil war and the politics behind getting an amendment passed is not a very popular topic.

My Rating: 8/10

Related Trivia:
  • Liam Neeson was first chosen for the lead role. After the project started, he decided to drop out
  • Steven Spielberg spent 12 years in research for this movie
  • Initially, the movie was conceived of as a bio film exploring Lincoln’s entire life story. Later it was decided to cover the last 6 months of Lincoln’s life
  • Daniel Day-Lewis had his reservations in taking on this challenging role. Eventually, it was Leonardo DiCaprio who convinced him.
  • In 2012, Tim Burton also made a movie titled, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

About Daniel Day Lewis:
  • Several times offered and turned down the role of Aragorn (Strider) in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
  • Zack Snyder offered him the role of “Jor-El” in Man of Steel (2013). Role went to Russel Crowe in the end
  • Was considered for the role of Jesus Christ in The Passion of the Christ (2004)
  • He won 23 acting awards for his performance in There Will be Blood, including the Oscar.

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