Instead, they focus on a single issue – the passing of the 13th Amendment to the Constiution, in January 1865, which would ban slavery everywhere and for all time. And they use that story to illustrate the rich political tenor of the times, and illuminate the man at the center of it all.
Daniel Day-Lewis has two Oscars, but his portrayal of Lincoln is something that will outshine anything else he has ever done, or ever will do.
It’s not just that Day-Lewis disappears physically into the Lincoln persona, or that he accurately re-creates the high-pitched, frontier lilt that was his actual voice (and not the deep-throated imitations we’ve so often heard).
With his sublime range of talents, Day-Lewis gives us Lincoln as a fully formed human being, funny when telling stories, tender with his young son, patient with his wife, angry and fiery with his Cabinet, and empathetic to all, friends and enemies alike.
The incredible supporting cast does just as well. Sally Field’s Mary Lincoln is a force of nature, smart and terrifying, protective of her husband in ruthless ways, while grief-stricken over the loss of a son. David Strathairn, as William H. Seward, is masterful and subtle as a consummate politician who could do a lot, but lacked Lincoln’s full range of humanity.
Proving that it’s not just serious stuff, Spielberg has a lot of fun portraying the 1860s House of Representatives as a raucous, bunch full of pomposity, colorful insults and behavior more commonly seen in Britain’s House of Commons. Amid it all, Tommy Lee Jones, as the radical Thaddeus Stevens, gives a bravura performance.
Hal Holbrook (who has played Lincoln before), James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson, Bruce McGill, Jared Harris – all of them add wonderful parts, too, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt giving an underrated turn as Robert Lincoln, a son not wanting to follow the same path as his melancholy father or mourning mother.