'Lincoln' wasn't the Abraham Lincoln film I was expecting, which was a good thing. So often epic biopics about historical figures give a dramatic synopsis of their entire life. I was fully expecting to walk into 'Lincoln,' watch a boy grow into a man; watch him take on politics and get elected to the highest office of the land; watch him agonize over the years of seemingly endless Civil War; on and on. I think with Spielberg at the helm and Daniel Day-Lewis giving the same performance, that would've been a great movie too. However, choosing to focus on a very specific time in Lincoln's life, at the end of his first term, right before his second began, made the movie a much more intimate experience.
'Lincoln' is based on the book "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" written by Doris Kearns Goodwin. We join Lincoln at the tail end of the Civil War, yet most people are still thinking that the war will continue to rage on. In the midst of this bloody war, Lincoln (Day-Lewis) is convinced that he needs to get the 13th Amendment passed in the House of Representatives in order to abolish slavery once and for all. He's concerned that if the war ends, the Emancipation Proclamation, which confiscated slaves as property during wartime, will be voided by the courts. What we learn right at the outset is that Lincoln will do and say anything to accomplish what he feels needs to be done. 'Lincoln' is the epitome of "the ends justify the means."
In order to secure the votes, he needs to pass the amendment, and Lincoln will stop at nothing. We often remember Lincoln as this great, almost immortal man who never did anything wrong. Here he's pictured as a weary politician who isn't above bribing, cajoling, or threatening in order to get what he wants as long as he thinks it's the right thing to do.
This isn't a movie about a plucky young country lawyer rising to the highest office in the land. This is a story of a savvy politician who worked the system tirelessly to achieve one of the greatest pieces of legislation in our nation's history. It's a story about tabling ones morals for the greater good. Compromising with people you might not be too fond of speaking to simply because they hold the keys to achieving your goal.
Watching Daniel Day-Lewis in the role is a special treat. As he has done throughout his career, Day-Lewis disappears into the role. He takes on the controversial subject of how Lincoln's voice really sounded and never makes you think twice about it. He delivers Lincoln's treasured stories and anecdotes with a quiet zeal. His Oscar win was more than deserved.
The supporting cast sports a long list of familiar faces, most notably Tommy Lee Jones as Representative Thaddeus Stevens. Jones delivers some of the best lines you'll find in a movie from 2012. His sharp, silver-tongued insults cut through his opponents like verbal knives. Other character actors like James Spader, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Lee Pace, Hal Holbrook, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sally Field, and Jared Harris round out one of the best ensemble casts around.
It's true that 'Lincoln' at times, especially toward the end, can tend to wander into patented Spielberg sappiness. I know that's one of the reasons why this movie received such a critical backlash once the awards season rolled around. Perhaps the movie should have ended with Lincoln walking down the White House stairs and out the door. It doesn't though, and the last five minutes feel a little tacked on.
What stands out here though, besides the stellar acting, is Tony Kushner's quick-witted screenplay. Even with its use of Old English and verbose language it still accessibly translates for anyone watching it. It could have been a dreary, murky screenplay full of complex political wrangling. Instead, Kushner finds a perfect balance between the politics and the intimately human. 'Lincoln' was one of my favorite movies last year.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a 4-disc Disney/Touchstone release. Disney is continuing its annoying tradition of stacking discs instead of packagaing multi-disc sets in bigger keepcases. This time around the Blu-ray containing the feature is stacked on the Blu-ray containing the special features. Both Blu-rays are 50GB discs. Similarly, the DVD of the movie is stacked on top of the Digital Copy disc. A Digital Copy code is included. A slipcover is also provided with the same artwork as the case. It's a region free release.
There wasn't really any question of whether 'Lincoln' would turn in a demo-worth video presentation on Blu-ray. If it was anything less, I think most of us would consider it a failed opportunity. Thankfully, this is Disney we're talking about, and more often than not they get everything exactly right.
The 1080p picture displays long-time Spielberg colleague Janusz Kaminski's cinematography in a stunning light. The movie is filled with stark shadows, dusty low-lit rooms, and solemn war-torn fields strewn with Union and Confederate corpses. Each of these scenes are wonderfully displayed. Shadows are immaculately rendered. The shadows serve to add weight and gravity to each scene they're present in. They accentuate details. Crushing is never an issue. Banding is non-existent.
Clarity is above reproach. Textures like Lincoln's tattered suits and Tommy Lee Jones' weathered face are flawlessly represented. Speaking of facial features, every crag, every facial hair, every freckle and blemish are completely visible. Edges are concise. Fine detail is extremely clear. The intentionally diffused light adds a visual ambiance to the proceedings, but never serves to undermine the clarity on screen. There aren't any oddities to report. This is as good as Blu-ray gets.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track might seem like a bit of overkill for a movie that is surprisingly heavy on conversations, but that isn't so. The extra channels are extremely well used here, providing a listening environment that is wholly engaging.
The blustering House of Representatives, with its yelling, hooting, and hollering is precisely placed. The side speakers add more surrounding ambience as people yell back and forth. The rear speakers pick up cheers and jeers as the house goes crazy during the voting process. It's a truly all-encompassing surround sound effect going on.
As for the front speakers, they deliver each witty remark, each beautifully worded Lincoln anecdote with the utmost clarity. Directionality up front is seamless. Dialogue punches in from every direction in this movie and the mix picks up each piece of dialogue with perfect lucidity. John Williams' rousing score bleeds through every speaker when it's needed, as it adds emotional oomph to the movie. Like the video, the audio is pretty much flawless.
If you're looking for extra special features then this is the version of the movie to buy. The 2-disc release only comes with a couple featurettes totaling around 13 minutes, while this one balloons out its special feature offerings to well over an hour. The extra features will be discussed below, in the Blu-ray exclusives section of the review.
'Lincoln' is a stellar achievement on many levels. With the help of intriguing source material, Steven Spielberg was able to create a dialogue-heavy movie that never loses focus. At 150 minutes you might think 'Lincoln' would drag in a few places, but it never does. It's a testament to Spielberg's deft pacing abilities. However, the true heroes here are the actors that embody these historical figures with enthusiasm, heart, and passion. Daniel Day-Lewis delivers a masterful performance. With perfect audio and video 'Lincoln' comes very highly recommended.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.