LINCOLN directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Tony Kushner based on a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin, with Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn and Tommy Lee Jones. A Disney release. 150 minutes. Opens Friday (November 9). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNNN
Much like his 2005 Munich, Steven Spielberg's Lincoln is a film about history that's really about contemporary American politics, illuminating the elaborate manoeuvring with which Abraham Lincoln passed the 13th Amendment, ending slavery, while secretly negotiating with the Confederacy to bring the Civil War to a close.
The film draws a precise contrast between the Congress of 1865, whose members were willing to work together despite their ideological differences, to the present-day reality when ideology is all that matters.
Daniel Day-Lewis plays Lincoln as a man fully aware of his own legend, and Tony Kushner's script gives him a wonderful tic of buying time with folksy parables as he tries to figure out how best to sell an idea to an audience. But among the all-star cast, it's Tommy Lee Jones who truly astonishes, instilling abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens with the full force of his wily, spiky charm. The guy can still deliver when he's roused to care.
The movie doesn't know when to stop, but that happens with all of Spielberg's serious projects. You get used to it.