Day-Lewis resurrects Lincoln

CENTRE STAGE: Daniel Day-Lewis shines in a powerful portrayal of Abraham Lincoln.
CENTRE STAGE: Daniel Day-Lewis shines in a powerful portrayal of Abraham Lincoln.

M, 2hr 45min
Reviewed by Peter Lampp .

If ol' Abraham Lincoln, from six feet under, ever gets to see this movie, he will see his mirror image in Daniel Day-Lewis.

The Englishman's powerful portrayal of the 1860s American president out to abolish slavery is one big reason for seeing Steven Spielberg's historical drama.

It is set during the American Civil War with the Union fighting the slave states of the South and it proves Americans are not afraid to relive their low points.

Day-Lewis is centre stage throughout with his mighty method acting in which he immerses himself in every role he undertakes, acting out Lincoln's final four months of his life.

Spielberg portrays Lincoln as a wise, deep-thinking intellectual who disarms his opponents with words. Funnily enough the original pick for Lincoln was Liam Neeson, and Day-Lewis was the off-course substitute. He can surely get ready for his third Oscar acceptance speech.

Speechifying is what much of Lincoln is about as he puts the 13th amendment to the American constitution through the House of Representatives.

For cinema-goers, it is a tedious, almost heavy, start and I had three stars in my mind, until things cranked up.

Early on it takes keen ears to follow the myriad characters and Lincoln's olde English speech (crafted by talented writer Tony Kushner) and the vicissitudes of American politics. But get through that opening half hour and you're away.

The tense scene in which the vote is taken is pure theatre, as is Lincoln's silent visit to the battlefield strewn with hundreds of corpses.

It seems weird that the conservative Republicans, including Lincoln, wanted to free the slaves and the Democrats were on the other side.

Spielberg has woven parallel plots into the movie with black servants and soldiers in the Union army prominent, an unstable dragon of a wife, Mary, (66-year-old Sally Field) playing almost a persuasive Hillary Clinton role, a son with army ambitions and bullying envoys (today's equivalent of lobbyists, I suppose) twisting the arms of congressmen.

It's been 43 years since The Flying Nun but Field could notch a supporting actress's gong for her role as could congressional leader Thaddeus Stephens (Tommy Lee Jones) in an ill-fitting hairpiece. The scenes and bizarre hairstyles are typical 19th century.

Look closely and you might see James Spader and John Hawkes (The Sessions) as Republican operatives.

Not for nothing is Lincoln up for 12 Academy Awards but, remember, it is not for action movie fans.

Manawatu Standard