Day-Lewis brings ‘Lincoln’ to life in Spielberg’s inspiring bio-drama

Daniel Day-Lewis in ‘Lincoln.’ Rated PG-13, 150 min. Touchstone Pictures, 2012.

On paper, “Lincoln” seems like it should not work. It’s a two-and-a-half-hour history-based drama with practically no action, and a climax that features a bunch of old men simply talking to each other. But leave it to award-winning screenwriter Tony Kushner and director Steven Spielberg to craft a sophisticated and timely tale about the 16th president that has audiences hanging on every word.

The movie follows Abraham Lincoln (a praise-worthy and powerful Daniel Day-Lewis, ever the chameleon) in the final months of his life, fighting for the 13th Amendment, to abolish slavery and essentially end the Civil War. Sally Field, in her few scenes as Mary Todd Lincoln, can’t quite match the commitment of Day-Lewis, but Tommy Lee Jones comes closer as the witty and fiery Rep. Thaddeus Stevens. James Spader and Joseph Gordon-Levitt also co-star.

Mostly shying away from the battlefield, “Lincoln” instead focuses on a battle of words, wills, morals and politics as divided as any modern debate. The script – based in part on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography – is simply astounding. It makes you hope Lincoln really was such a thoughtful and forward-thinking man.

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