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Leading from the front

By Brentwood Gazette  |  Posted: January 24, 2013

COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF:  Daniel Day Lewis is brilliant as Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's portrait of the president as he tries to get slavery abolished

COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF: Daniel Day Lewis is brilliant as Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's portrait of the president as he tries to get slavery abolished

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Lincoln (12A)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, David Strathrain, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Released: Friday, January 25

HOT on the heels of Django Unchained comes Lincoln, another slice of American history from a similar era with slavery as it's underlying theme; but you couldn't get two more different films.

Whereas Quentin Tarantino's movie is brimming with lurid violence, knowing wit and extreme characters, Steven Spielberg's film is a much more serious, restrained affair. It's a 'talky' movie that isn't so much a Lincoln biopic as a forensic study of a particular moment in US history, the pivotal time in the mid 1860s when the 16th president faced a terrible crisis; whether he continue to press for the abolition of slavery at the cost of possibly extending the bloody US Civil War.

The dilemma hinges around trying to get the 13th Amendment (which would abolish slavery) past Congress before the war ends and the southern states rejoin the Union when they'd block it.

It is a defining time for the nation and for Lincoln, and Spielberg handles the material with precision and care without letting his film become solemn or plodding.

After an opening scene depicting the bloody horror of the war, we see Lincoln talking to two black soldiers, one of them insistent that the Amendment must be passed. But it's far from certain that the President can get the legislation through as he faces plenty of opposition to his plans even in the Union.

However, in influential and determined abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens (played by the be-wigged Tommy Lee Jones), the President has a powerful asset while Lincoln himself is as wily as he is charismatic and knows he might have to use fair means as well as foul to get the Amendment through.

What follows is a gripping account of the political persuading, chicanery and outright dishonesty that it took to get slavery abolished in the USA.

Ensuring the President doesn't have to get his hands dirty, Lincoln's right-hand man William Steward (played by David Straitharn, ever excellent in these kind of behind-the-scenes, politicking roles) enlists a trio of agents to try to persuade wavering Congressmen to vote for abolition... And they'll use whatever sweeteners, threats and inducements they can muster to get their numbers.

Steven Spielberg's film is a mixture of political thriller and courtroom drama, interspersed with glimpses of Lincoln's life in this period, from the warmth and camaraderie he shares with his peers and the public, to the sometimes strained relationship he has with his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field).

If this sounds a bit dry, it isn't at all. There is an involving intimacy to the unfolding events with Spielberg ensuring we're drawn into the drama, rooting for Lincoln, Stevens and the abolitionists, despite the scurrilous methods they sometimes use. Better that than the alternative of slavery continuing.

At the heart of the film is yet another remarkable, towering performance by Daniel Day- Lewis, who seems to have a way of tapping into great characters in American history both in fact and fiction (think Last of the Mohicans, There Will Be Blood, Gangs of New York).

His Lincoln is not the sombre, funereal figure we think we know from photographs and paintings, but an avuncular, folksy figure with a steely core who has his moments of doubt and anxiety.

Both physically and psychologically, Day-Lewis inhabits the role, becomes Lincoln. Surely a third Oscar is in the bag for the Anglo-Irish actor.

He has good support too, mostly notably from Tommy Lee Jones at his craggiest and most salty, whose 'nincompoop' speech is a particular highlight.

Engrossing and illuminating, Lincoln does justice to a remarkable and momentous time in American history.

Review by Darryl Webber, taken from http://chillidogmovies. blogspot.co.uk

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