From all accounts, Daniel Day Lewis has replicated the appearance and mannerisms of one of the greatest presidents the United States of America has ever had. A command performance, Lincoln, is “essentially” a one-man show. As the movie opens, Abraham Lincoln sits on a dais in the rain, talking with soldiers as they prepare to be dispatched. Each, it becomes clear, almost worships the venerable man sitting in front of them. He, in turn, seeming uncomfortable with their praise, nevertheless seems noble and god-like in the darkness as those around him repeat those famous words from the Gettysburg Address and themselves leave center stage for the president. The scene, for me, encapsulates what Lincoln portrayed: ecce homo – “behold the man.” Nothing more and nothing less. Everyone else in the movie is, quite unabashedly, a “supporting character” to the great man himself. But Lewis pulls off a stunning and impressive characterization of a man that almost single-handedly preserved democracy as a way of life in the midst of crises, all the while taking on his shoulders the sins of the nation.
Lincoln focuses on two of the greatest causes in his presidency: the ending of the Civil War and the 13th amendment. It picks up rather late into his second term and mainly follows the passing of the amendment, rather than anything other significant decisions made during the war. The other cast does a fantastic job in bringing out Lincoln’s own moral dilemmas with both the war and the necessity to “defile” himself in politics when it meant overturning slavery for all time. In both cases, we see a man who is dedicated to justice in a very single-minded fashion.
At the same time, I wondered when I saw it whether Abraham Lincoln seemed truly “human” in Lincoln’s depiction. He is often larger than life, even when he is trying to be most down-to-earth. But then I concluded that when we, contemporary people, often look for “realism” in portrayals of famous persons, we are actually looking for their “darker” sides and for them to become sullied so that we can feel superior. Rather, what probably held the attraction of others to Abraham Lincoln in his own day and in stark reality, by contrast, was that he really was larger-than-life in his fervent commitments to justice and unity. He was as impressive in his everyday-ness as he was in his great speeches. He just was Lincoln – no more, and no less. And this is what Lincoln portrays, to its great credit.
My Rating: 10 out of 10