Daniel Day-Lewis is the Halley’s Comet of actors: He only comes around in what seems like every 75 years or so, but when he does, it’s a sight to behold and worth the wait.
Since 2002, Day-Lewis has appeared in so few films that it’s reasonable to list them here: “Gangs of New York” in 2002, “The Ballad of Jack and Rose” in 2005, “There Will Be Blood” in 2007, “Nine” in 2009 and “Lincoln” in 2012.
So when Day-Lewis decides to leave his house, we know it’s because he found a project he thinks is great and that he’ll be great in. He saw something in “Lincoln,” and now the movie-viewing public has something worth seeing.
The film opens with Lincoln’s back to the camera, chatting with Union soldiers near a Civil War battlefield, as the movie is set during the last four months of Lincoln’s life. Once the camera finally pans around and his face is shown, it’s breathtaking to see how remarkably similar Lewis looks to Lincoln.
Although it is impossible to truly know Lincoln’s minor idiosyncrasies, the face is spot on, and his posture and mannerisms fulfill our every expectation. Day-Lewis’ interpretation is as close as anybody will ever get. Much of the movie’s praise was directed at his performance; Day-Lewis makes it feel like the 16th president is actually in the room. Even the voice is great — considering he had to invent it because no recording of Lincoln exists — that is no small achievement.
Much of the plot focuses on Lincoln’s attempt to pass the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in the House of Representatives, which would effectively end slavery.
The film also features many great performances from other big-name actors who you’ve seen in multiple small roles over the years. Sally Field plays the ever-worried and mentally unstable Mary Todd Lincoln, a performance that earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Tommy Lee Jones also thrives as abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, thewig-wearing Radical Republican Congressional leader. Jones’ dramatic and sometimes funny performance earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Also appearing in smaller roles are Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Jared Harris and Hal Holbrook — the last of whom won an Emmy for portraying Lincoln in a 1976 TV mini-series, also titled “Lincoln.”
Although it clocks in at nearly 3 hours, the Day-Lewis iteration of “Lincoln” flies by. And although history buffs may enjoy it more than others, the drama and urgency inherent in the situation combined with the occasional comedic interjections are enough to interest casual viewers. In one scene, as Lincoln is readying to share yet another anecdote with his staff, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton recognizes this and says, “You’re going to tell one of your stories! I can’t stand to hear another one of your stories!” and rushes out of the room.
The script is excellently written, and is based on a biography titled, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.” But, what cannot be mentioned enough, Day-Lewis is the driving force behind “Lincoln.” Enough praise cannot be heaped on him for capturing the intricacies of the president and giving life to what most of us know as a headshot from our history books.
Anybody with a fourth grade education knows what happens when Lincoln goes to the theater, but you can’t help being sad and stopping yourself from shouting, “Just stay home and hang out with your son or something!” as he leaves.