Going into the theater, I had a couple of important concerns on my mind. Spielberg has always been a mixed bag of a filmmaker for me, and I knew that Lincoln could very well disappoint. The last Spielberg I had the misfortune of watching “War Horse,” was cut and dry overly sentimental.
Don’t get me wrong, I can get caught up in the wild romanticism of two lovers crossing a field towards each other, or a father giving a piggy-back ride to his son to dramatic music, but I’m not that deeply affected by such things. If I come out of a theater in tears, it’s not because it was a bad movie, it’s because actors played quietly powerful roles, and used such things as subtlety and restraint. Less is more, and in Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis leaves the screen vibrating with his presence.
P.T. Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood” is among my favorite movies, and Day-Lewis played an iconic oil-man, Daniel Plainview, with unmistakable prowess only characteristic of such a method style of acting. While I was watching “Lincoln,” I performed a sort of test to see how well Day-Lewis’s acting was: I tried to imagine him in the role of Plainview and I couldn’t. He became Abraham Lincoln. He was no longer simply an actor.
Every frame in the film reveals the same thing—that is to say a brilliant actor doing some brilliant acting. I appreciated Spielberg’s hands-off approach to directing this film, as it set a kind of framework for the actors and gave them room to work with.
As to the point of the film, I think that it served as a window to look through, a portrait of a man who was outwardly larger-than-life, but in the quiet rooms of the white house, like any other man; a human, with human flaws, and human emotions.
It served to take an ideal and transform him into something real, tangible, and more importantly, someone we can admire as not just the president that freed the slaves, but the president who sat at his desk, mulling over the day, repressing grief for the loss of his son, and facing not only the battles on the floor of the legislature, but the battles in his own mind.