David James, ASSOCIATED PRESS
"LINCOLN" — ★★★★ — Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook, Gloria Reuben and Jared Harris; PG-13 (violence, adult themes); in general release
Since the first notable cinematic portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in "Birth of a Nation" back in 1915, many of America's greatest actors have stepped into the role of the Great Emancipator.
Many movie aficionados point to the performances of Henry Fonda, Walter Huston and Raymond Massey as being among the finest.
Well, it's time to add another name to the list, and I believe it ought to be at the top — Daniel Day-Lewis.
In Steven Spielberg's new film, "Lincoln," based on a portion of Doris Kearns Goodwin's Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Team of Rivals," Day-Lewis is breathtakingly brilliant as the beleaguered president who is struggling to win the Civil War, deal with personal grief, cope with the eccentricities and demons of the first lady, and pass the 13th Amendment in a hostile Congress.
Add to this the genius of Spielberg's direction, spectacular visuals that deliver the 1860s with a romantically stark and gritty reality, and supporting performances that are off the charts, and it adds up to the must-see movie of the season.
Speaking of the supporting cast, let me highlight just a few.
Sally Field would not take no for an answer as she pursued the role of Mary Todd Lincoln, and everyone should be grateful for her persistence.
With the ability to charm, match seasoned congressmen barb for barb, and comfort and bedevil the president, this most complex character is perfectly crafted by Field, who simply becomes the first lady.
Tommy Lee Jones stars as radical Republican congressman Thaddeus Stevens. Jones' depiction of this powerful and controversial legislator is mesmerizing as he employs venomous eloquence to eviscerate opponents in the House chamber and manipulates himself into compromises that will further "the cause."
This alone is worth the price of admission.
And then there's David Strathhairn as the man many Americans thought would be the president in 1861, William Seward.
The case can be made that he was the most significant and the most influential of the "Team of Rivals" that included Salmon Chase, Simon Cameron, Edward Bates and Edwin Stanton.
Strathhairn is wonderful, and for those who have read the book and know of the affection and devotion that developed between Lincoln and Seward, the portrayal is additionally poignant.
With all of the praise for the supporting cast, I can't stress enough the Oscar-worthy acting of Day-Lewis.
Edison didn't invent the "talking machine" until 1877, so we don't know exactly what Lincoln's voice sounded like. Some have commented on the voice quality employed, but as the film unfolds, it all works perfectly.
I'm going to make this very simple: "Lincoln" is one of the best movies of the year.
"Lincoln" is rated PG-13 for violence and adult themes; running time 149 minutes.
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