‘Lincoln’ humanizes American legend

By Trevor Ballanger

President Abraham Lincoln left behind a legacy unlike any president before him. In “Lincoln,” director Stephen Spielberg examines a pivotal period in Lincoln’s presidency and offers a human portrait of a man deeply embedded in the American consciousness.

Aided by a stellar performance from perennial Oscar contender Daniel Day-Lewis, who portrays the president, “Lincoln” comments on the combative American political system still in place today.

The movie chronicles the 16th president’s last four months before his assassination and begins in the midst of the Civil War. Countless soldiers have died in the conflict, and a Union victory seems distantly inevitable. In the film, Lincoln plans to use the ongoing war to spur the potential passage of the 13th Amendment, which would outlaw slavery, a result he deeply desires.

Told with Spielberg’s flair for commercial decadence, the film portrays the effort made to obtain the necessary majority in the House of Representatives in order to pass the bill and gives audiences a stark look into the complexity of the U.S. legislature. The president and his team of advisers do whatever they can to obtain the necessary votes, at times resorting to bribery and misinformation in pursuit of liberating African-Americans.

The humanization of Lincoln is due in no small part to Day-Lewis’ brilliant physical presence. Characterizing an icon is no small task, and Day-Lewis does well to avoid a hollow, idealistic portrayal. “Lincoln” shows the president as bent and weary from years of civil war and political posturing. His voice—less thunderous than previous renderings—cracks as he tells anecdotes and stories. Such tactics reveal that the president was a human being rather than a collection of grandiose ideas and principles. Day-Lewis spends much of the film quietly commanding the screen. Many scenes depict Lincoln with his family, lending a personal touch to the

American legend.

The film’s narrative is eloquently dense and packed with historical references and idealistic arguments. The battles on the floor of the House of Representatives are well drawn, portrayed by an astonishing supporting cast (Hal Holbrook, John Hawkes, Michael Stuhlbarg and David Strathairn).

The arguments are filled with humor and political back talk, though an honest idealism rises from their bickering—a reminder that pure intentions exist even amid

political division.

Spielberg’s Lincoln isn’t a typified American hero. The film venerates Lincoln for his practices, though his methods symbolize a slightly cynical view of the American political machine. “Lincoln” is a portrayal of the president that contrasts the broad American folkloric conception of the man. It is a sobering look at a tumultuous, divided political climate not unlike that of modern day America.