Steven Spielberg isn’t scared of close-ups. To begin with, the make-up on the superb Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln is perfect. The actor’s eyes sparkle with a gentle but firm gleam, just as you’d imagine the eyes of Honest Abe. Spielberg zooms in not just literally but also figuratively—he depicts the intimate details of the president’s life, capturing Lincoln (Day-Lewis) in his more personal roles as a tender father and devoted husband. Spielberg and his all-star team (which includes screenwriter Tony Kushner, who wrote Angels In America) know Lincoln’s iconic top hat has become a halo for his semi-divine stature in American history and depict him as such. In Lincoln, they manage to uphold his glorious legacy while humanizing him as a relatable figure.
The film’s narrative centers on Lincoln’s push for the passing of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery and came in the final days of the Civil War. Everyone knows how it ends—the amendment is passed and Lincoln assassinated—still, the combined genius of Kushner, Spielberg, and Day-Lewis construct 150 minutes of gripping suspense and Oscar-worthy epic drama.
When a film runs so long, you can assume that either the director’s prestige has allowed him to indulge or that all of the scenes were simply too beautiful to cut. In Lincoln, one can assume both. Spielberg, of course, knows what he’s doing, and every shot is rich, lush, and perfectly assembled so that each scene carves more and more depth into Lincoln’s character. The film ends and leaves you with near-religious awe, not only towards the historical Lincoln but towards the folks whose names roll in the credits. Even after two hours of sitting, the film makes you want to linger and read all of the credits out of deep appreciation.