This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

16Jul/13

MOVIES @ HARLEM LIBRARY: LINCOLN

Daniel Day-Lewis gives a magnificent performance as the sixteenth president of the United States in Steven Spielberg’s LINCOLN

LINCOLN (Steven Spielberg, 2012)
Harlem Library Auditorium
9 West 124th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Thursday, July 18, free, 4:00
www.nypl.org
www.thelincolnmovie.com

Over the years, a handful of fine actors have portrayed Abraham Lincoln, including Walter Huston in D. W. Griffiths’s 1930 Abraham Lincoln, Henry Fonda in John Ford’s 1939 Young Mr. Lincoln, Raymond Massey in John Cromwell’s 1940 Abe Lincoln in Illinois, and Emmy winner Hal Holbrook in the 1974 miniseries Sandburg’s Lincoln, as well as George A. Billings in Phil Rosen’s 1924 The Dramatic Life of Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Walker in Timur Bekmambetov’s 2012 Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. But no one has ever quite captured the essence of the sixteenth president of the United States of America as Daniel Day-Lewis does in his Oscar-winning performance in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. Day-Lewis is mesmerizing as Lincoln, a tall, goodhearted soul trying to end slavery and the Civil War. Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2005 book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, the film begins in January 1865, as newly reelected Honest Abe is caught in a tenuous situation: He can work to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, which would abolish slavery, or meet with a contingent from the South (which includes Jackie Earle Haley as Confederate vice president Alexander H. Stephens) to reach a peaceful settlement, but it is unlikely he can do both. Secretary of State William H. Seward (David Strathairn) wants him to forget about the amendment, believing passage in the House of Representatives would be impossible, but Lincoln is determined to do what is right, even if it takes a trio of shady lobbyists (James Spader, John Hawkes, and Tim Blake Nelson) to help get it done. Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner (Angels in America) depict Lincoln as a careful, caring man who loves going off on tangents, telling stories, parables, and even dirty jokes. He lies on the floor with his young son, Tad (Gulliver McGrath), tries to calm his wife, Mary (Sally Field), whom he calls Molly and is still haunted by the death of their son Willy, and attempts to convince their older son, Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), not to join the Union Army. Day-Lewis plays Lincoln as a strong yet fragile man torn apart on the inside much like the country is torn apart over the issue of slavery — as shown particularly in the House, where radical Republican leader Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) is enjoying a vicious battle of words with Democratic standard-bearer Fernando Wood (Lee Pace) that is every bit as contentious as the current Congress. The uniformly fine cast, filled with stage veterans, also includes Holbrook as Francis Preston Blair, Jared Harris as Ulysses S. Grant, Michael Stuhlbarg as George Yeaman, Colman Domingo as Harold Green, Stephen McKinley Henderson as William Slade, Walton Goggins as Wells A. Hutchins, Gregory Itzin as John Archibald Campbell, and Stephen Spinella as Asa Vintner Litton. Unfortunately, Spielberg can’t leave well enough alone, pulling at the heartstrings with an unnecessary opening sequence and a tragically overwrought finale; without those scenes, Lincoln had a chance to become a classic; with them, it is merely a solid film that sheds fascinating new light on a critical moment in U.S. history, portrayed by a master craftsman with immense skill, the first actor to completely disappear into the part of this genuine American hero.

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