On paper, Lincoln is not compelling cinema. The white-haired white-guys are bitching about politics. The wife is bitching about money. The teen is bitching about parents. And Tommy Lee Jones is bitching about everything. Every player has a beef.
While an occasional chortle interrupts the narrative, Lincoln is a serious film about a critical issue. The Civil War forms the scaffold for the tragedies and triumphs in the final four months of President Abraham Lincoln's life.
Can Lincoln pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution before ending the war? He must. The story chronicles the delicate and deadly timing of negotiating a truce with passing the Amendment. Ultimately, the ballot - not bloodshed - freed slaves forever.
Combat litters the screenplay. Not just the battle of the Union versus the Confederacy or emancipation versus slavery. Northerners and Southerners had their own internal skirmishes. And then there were the political wars inside the White House and domestic wars inside the Lincoln marriage. Add to these the inner conflicts that agonized every conscientious person from the period.
The clashes ranged from good against good to terrible against yet-more-terrible. There are no real spoilers because the story recaps history. The Union won and Blacks were freed. But the movie is about how the rush to win the war almost abolished the Amendment and perpetuated slavery.
The plots and sub-plots are braided into one another, with the yings and the yangs of the outcomes cross-pollinating rights and wrongs to deliver a greater good. It's a film where you can invest all your cranial agility and ability into the subtleties of the screenplay and the astonishing performances.
Daniel Day-Lewis is Lincoln. Audiences, the Academy and critics deservedly call his the performance for and of a lifetime. And the bench players contributed their finest as did the crew. Tony Kushner congealed his considerable skill for the script. Not least, cinematic chameleon Steven Spielberg amassed the divergent talents to direct the film.
With the exception of the opening muddy bloody battle of bayonets, Lincoln is a bloody muddy war of words. The theater stage, they say, is at best, verbal and cerebral; the movie screen is made for action.
But to scrutinize Kushner's probing poetic words from the furrows of actors' foreheads and the fire in their eyes with the intimacy of a lens - that is the gift of the camera.
Master cinematographer Janusz Kaminski embellishes with his silent voice. He focuses on (Day-Lewis) Lincoln's weary slumped shoulders, on (Sally Field) Mary Todd Lincoln's turbulent lips, on (David Strathairn) William Seward's scornful frown, on (Hal Holbrook) Preston Blair's censorious scowl, on (James Spader) W.N. Bilbo's wily whiskers, on (Tommy Lee Jones) Thaddeus Steven's world-weary eyes, and on (Gloria Reuben) Elizabeth Keckley's stifled tears.
Soundman Gary Rydstrom and music-man John Williams emboss Kaminski's painterly shots. Their sonance enhances the Chiaroscuro lighting that cloaks the scenes. Yet more reasons to relish Lincoln.
But no political drama can epitomize perfection. For me, what is with Steven Spielberg's obsession with grisly gruesome openings? Steven, is that your macho thing? (OK, so it worked for Saving Private Ryan.)
And the final speech? Too didactic. Too dilettante. And too damned disruptive for closure.
Still, Lincoln is a classic - amply watch-worthy for multiple viewings, and abundantly shelf-worthy for the home library.
Let these additional fine performers further persuade you: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson, Joseph Cross, Jared Harris, Lee Pace, Stephen Henderson, Lukas Haas and Julie White.
Here you have elevated art - a creation that makes you think, feel, judge, laugh, cry, react, act and applaud long after the curtain.
"There's never been a human being that I never met that I loved as much as him, ever," so said Daniel Day-Lewis of Lincoln.
And certainly shades of that sentiment were echoed throughout the Extras. Actors, crew and craftsmen share their enduring enthusiasm as they recall the Making Of.
The Bonus Features gratified the urgency to know what the artists have to say about Lincoln and Lincoln.
Even Pulitzer author Doris Kearns Goodwin makes multiple appearances. She wrote Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln on which the movie was based. Always great to hear from the writers.
Editor, production designers, milliners, make-up artists, costumers, coiffeurs, shoemakers...all the crafters but the cook were there. We heard about near everything - from canes to casting, from top hats to tick tocks, from spit to stencils, from silk robes to symphonies.
Considering the quantity of the interviews, I am happy to report that there was minimal back-slapping brown-nosing boot-licking apple-polishing. Thank-you, thank-you. The Extras were an informative mostly-must-see.
Studio: DreamWorks Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson, Jared Harris, Lee Pace, Gloria Reuben, Stephen Henderson, Lukas Haas and Julie White
Length: 150 minutes
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
7.1 DTS HD Master Audio
5.1 Dolby Digital
5.1 Dolby Digital