Steven Spielberg's mammoth new film project, "Lincoln," exceeds the realm of the biographic flick and ventures bravely into the virgin territory of historical political commentary.
With a critical inward gaze, "Lincoln" focuses more on the triumphs and shortcomings inherent in American democracy than the frequently caricaturized heroism of America's 16th president. In so doing, Spielberg poignantly exposes the reality of the struggle to abolish slavery in the throes of the Civil War and creates a hero frequently absent from American textbooks: a fundamentally human Abraham Lincoln.
Cast in the title role, Daniel Day-Lewis' performance is awe-inspiring. From physical likeness to verbal draw, Lewis is an uncanny, pulsing incarnation of Honest Abe, equipped with a yarn for every occasion and a smile capable of propping a nation's collective decency. He is all at once a family man, conflicted idealist, savvy politician and story-teller. In the film, his heroism and bravery develop through his resilience, rather than through overt action or grandiose public declaration. Lincoln's determination to change the world is seen clearly and continually in Lewis' eyes.
Cast as Mary Todd Lincoln, Sally Field masterfully cultivates Lincoln's historically misunderstood spouse. Lost in the shadow of her husband's legend, Field articulates the psychological toll paid by Mary Todd Lincoln in the final stages of the Civil War. Her dedication to her husband is a triumph paid for with constant internal struggle. Field wears the weathered expression of a dedicated spectator, wholly invested in her husband's cause.
The film's storyline meanders through the struggle to pass the 13th Amendment in the House of Representatives by highlighting the contributions of lesser known historical figures. As Thaddeus Stevens, the outspoken passionate Republican representative from Pennsylvania, Tommy Lee Jones is wonderfully witty, sharp-tongued and passionate. As Secretary of State William H. Seward, David Strathairn is resolute and focused, the perfect right-hand man to Lewis' Lincoln.
In the end, Lincoln is about the triumph of humanity over prejudice and the frequently redundant processes of democracy. It illuminates the healing capacity of the human spirit and weighs the unfathomable cost of the pursuit of moral justice. For anyone who recognizes the founding virtues of the United States government or simply identifies as an American, this film is a must-see.