Thursday, November 8, 2012

Organic Transformation

Lincoln       Final Cut Score: 92%

Signing up for a role as a historical figure is akin to placing a target on your chest  or if you prefer, back. With the living, breathing version of the character available - at one point in time - for comparison, you best bring your A+ game if you're even going to attempt it.

Last year, we had one of the finest fictional, non-fiction portrayals in the history of film with Meryl Streep's thorough embodiment of Margaret Thatcher on the way to an Oscar win.

Now, one year on, the silver screen legend has been trumped by one of cinema's preeminent thespians, a man who's synonymous with the method way of acting, Daniel Day Lewis. And in fitting method form, Day-Lewis doesn't play Abraham Lincoln, he is Abraham Lincoln in a performance that will have you seriously questioning if what you're watching is a documentary shot in the 1860s.

Essentially centered solely on the 16th president's struggle to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, this is not a biographical effort by Steven Spielberg but rather a tightly-focused study of a key period of time in the life of one of mankind's most compelling personalities. Lincoln's prodigious powers of persuasion put to the ultimate test as he sought to make all men equal in the eyes of the law, no distinction for skin color.

Adapted to the screen via Doris Kearns Goodwin's Lincoln, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, the film is driven by a deluge of dialogue and demands a copious amount of patience as we get a inside baseball look at the politics of the day. What we witness is not far removed from the games played today in D.C.: deals cut to acquire votes, concessions made to assure passage and a dash of deception to nail down the desired result.

Everything you've heard about Day-Lewis' jaw-dropping transformation is true. The two-time Oscar winner gives Lincoln a multi-layered persona without once tipping into caricature territory. He's the man to beat for Best Actor, this from a staunch supporter of Joaquin Phoenix's magnum opus in The Master.

There's not a weak link in the cast, a Best Supporting Actor nod is guaranteed for Tommy Lee Jones, who's magnificent as Thaddeus Stevens, the radical Republican leader with a tongue capable of cutting you to pieces if you dare start up a debate with the wig-wearer. David Strathairn is strong as Lincoln's right-hand man, Secretary of State William Seward and Sally Field should score a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her feisty depiction of the mercurial Mrs. Lincoln.

Spielberg dresses the drama with a subtle, elegant touch. The three-time Oscar winner allows Lincoln to breathe, it never feels rushed although that may be to the film's detriment as the aforementioned wordiness gets a tad wearisome.

While it can certainly be argued the film doesn't capture the entirety of Lincoln's majestic legacy, what's on-screen should sate those who are seeking a glimpse into his soul. The lanky man's uncanny ability to move you to his way of thinking is something to marvel at.

I know this, for two hours and 30 minutes, I swear I had an audience with Lincoln himself. And I'm all the better for it.