Trying to tell the life story of Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States, on the big screen would be a gargantuan if not impossible task. Long a passion project of Steven Spielberg, the famed director wisely decided to focus his 150 minute film on Lincoln’s steadfast determination to pass the 13th amendment to the Constitution, ending slavery once and for all, amid efforts to end the Civil War. The story takes place in the last four months of Lincoln’s life.
By January of 1865, the Civil War had taken an enormous toll on the South, and the Confederacy was struggling to hold on. When some of President Lincoln’s advisors come to believe that the war can be won in mere weeks after an assault on Wilmington, North Carolina, he decides to delay planned peace talks with the South. He fears that if the war ends too quickly, his fellow constituents will lose any willingness they have to pass legislation outlawing slavery. Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), an abolitionist, who long term goals are even loftier than Lincoln’s, leads the fight to pass the amendment.
Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward (David Strathairn) must convince a handful of lame duck Democrats to side with Stevens and his radical Republicans. Seward hires three men (James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson) whose job it is to convince any undecided Democrats to vote for the amendment to get it passed.
Though Daniel Day-Lewis only seems to appear in a movie every few years, each time is a treat. His Lincoln is stoic, stubborn and thoughtful most of the time. However, he shows a sense of humor when telling stories, and a soft side when spending time with his young son, Tad (Gulliver McGrath). Daniel Day-Lewis plays Lincoln as a real, approachable human being rather than a larger-than-life figure. The acting is really top-notch all around: Tommy Lee Jones really impresses as Thaddeus Stevens, a man both professionally and personally invested in ending slavery. And though she only gets a few minutes to truly shine, Sally Field makes the most of her screen time as Mary Todd Lincoln. The supporting cast of David Strathairn, Jackie Earle Hayley (as Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Lincoln’s eldest son, Robert all turn in fine performances. Admittedly though, Gordon-Levitt feels a bit wasted, as the conflict between Robert and his father wasn’t as developed as I might have liked.
Though some might feel that the scenes in the House of Representatives drag on a bit too long, that’s what Lincoln is primarily about: the complex politicking that went on in the effort to abolish slavery. The speeches made by Thaddeus Stevens and other politicians of the time represent some of the film’s best moments, and can offer us a glimpse at history that shouldn’t be forgotten.
Framed in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, Lincoln sports a wonderful 1080p transfer. There’s a rather hazy look to the entire film that has been simulated perfectly here. Black levels are inky and consistent. The rather dark color palette looks authentic, and detail accuracy is stunning. No compression artifacting is apparent, and aliasing and banding are kept to a minimum.
The DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio sound mix is just as impressive. Dialogue is crystal clear, and John Williams’ score possesses a resounding, yet soft presence. Sound effects and atmospherics are presented realistically. This is a truly immersive experience.
French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and English DVS Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks are included, as are Enligh SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Along with a DVD and Digital Copy of the film, the following special features are offered:
- The Journey to Lincoln (Disc 1, HD, 9 minutes): Director/producer Steven Spielberg, fellow producer Kathleen Kennedy, screenwriter Tony Kushner, actor Daniel Day-Lewis, production designer Rick Carter, “Team of Rivals” author Doris Kearns Goodwin and others involved in the production collaborators discuss the origins of the project.
- A Historic Tapestry: Richmond, Virginia (Disc 1, HD, 4 minutes): This featurette has Spielberg, Kennedy and Carter offering a bit more information as to why they chose to shoot the film in Richmond, Virginia.
- In the Company of Character (Disc 2, HD, 10 minutes): Cast and crew dissect Lincoln‘s main performances, from extreme method actor Daniel Day-Lewis’ to Sally Field’s enthusiasm and commitment, nearly everyone of import is covered.
- Crafting the Past (Disc 2, HD, 11 minutes): A closer look at Rick Carter’s production design and Joanna Johnston’s costumes, as well as the authenticity of the sets, props, clothing and more.
- Living with Lincoln (Disc 2, HD, 27 minutes): The most interesting special feature is also the 2-disc set’s most substantive, Spielberg’s immersive filmmaking process..
- In Lincoln’s Footsteps (Disc 2, HD, 17 minutes): Spielberg, Kennedy, editor Michael Kahn, composer John Williams and others cover the film’s pacing, the art of weaving a visual narrative, scoring Lincoln and more.