There are not many filmmakers who could make an engaging, thought-provoking film about the passing of a piece of legislation 150 years ago. Steven Spielberg is one of those few filmmakers. Lincoln is a beautifully-shot, well-acted, and captivating movie.
Rather than a biopic, Lincoln spans only a few short months as the Civil War wanes. Lincoln and others strive to pass the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery in the United States before the war is over and the amendment would seem less politically necessary. The film assembles an all-star cast to fill even the smallest of roles, playing as a Who's Who with nineteenth-century facial hair.
I often find Daniel Day-Lewis's performances overwhelming, but his Lincoln was perfect. Famed for the months of research and preparation he puts into every role, Day-Lewis embodies everything about his character, from his walk and voice to his quiet contemplation and flashes of emotion. Tommy Lee Jones offers another strong performance as the abolitionist Representative Thaddeus Stevens. One of the film's best scenes come between these two, who want similar things but work toward their goals in very different ways.
It's reassuring, in a way, to realize that the House of Representatives has always been crazy. The battles waged on the floor of Congress are filled with pithy insults and dramatic overtures. Lincoln is a surprisingly funny movie. It's easy to forget, in studying history, that people in the past could have great senses of humor as well. Lincoln does well to include the humor, keeping the potential history lesson from feeling too dry or wooden.
There are a few scenes that seem rather forced or even melodramatic--the opening scene among them--but for the most part the film balances these well. Some will criticize this movie as "Oscar bait," but I for one would much rather watch Oscar bait than Box Office bait. It may not be as sexy as James Bond or as showy as Twilight, but Lincoln hits its marks and does so with aplomb.