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In a nation divided by war and the strong winds of change, Lincoln pursues a course of action designed to end the war, unite the country and abolish slavery.
For more about Lincoln and the Lincoln Blu-ray release, see the Lincoln Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on March 19, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Jared Harris, Jackie Earle Haley, Sally Field
Director: Steven Spielberg
» See full cast & crew
Lincoln Blu-ray Review
"Things which are equal to the same things are equal to each other..."
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, March 19, 2013
Whenever Steven Spielberg has stood trial for a crime against cinema, it's been a crime of passion. With the exception of Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark -- each a perfect movie, if such a thing exists -- Spielberg's vice has long been his love of the tale, the art and the craft. He plucks heartstrings once too often (I would argue The Color Purple, some would argue Schindler's List), or in some cases, for two hours at a time (War Horse leaps to mind). He extends an otherwise tight experience one scene too many (A.I. Artificial Intelligence, War of the Worlds) or, every now and again, reduces an entire third act to a tangent (The Lost World, Minority Report). He sometimes suddenly and without provocation indulges in excessive melodrama or theatrics (The Color Purple), or indulges altogether to rare yet disastrous ends (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull).
Unlike Spielberg's fundamentally flawed films or lesser efforts, Lincoln finds the filmmaker indulging in something unexpected and most refreshing: restraint. And not just any restraint. Bold, divisive restraint. He doesn't attempt to paint broad strokes of Lincoln's presidency, focusing instead on the last four months of the 16th President's life. He doesn't cover Lincoln's many achievements, selecting one and one alone. He doesn't embed the film in the mire of the Civil War, shy from the complexities of the political era or over-embellish the war of politics Lincoln led from the White House after his re-election in 1864. In fact, Spielberg, doesn't play by the Biopic Rules at all, fashioning a riveting political drama that actively engages hearts and minds with Lincoln's shrewdest tactics, most steadfast principles, most resolute maneuverings and his noblest pursuit.
January, 1865. The Civil War has taken a tremendous toll on the South and the Confederacy is struggling to survive. Victory is all but assured for the North. The only holdout? Surprisingly, President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis), who refuses to press the advantage, even going so far as to actively delay peace talks. Fearing it will be his Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 that will be abolished at war's end, rather than slavery, he stands firm, demanding the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- outlawing slavery and involuntary servitude -- be passed by the House of Representatives by February. To do so, though, Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward (David Strathairn) have to convince a handful of lame duck Democrats to side with the Radical Republicans and help push the Amendment through. No small feat considering the contentious climate of the House and the forces of will coming to bear on the debate, above all vitriolic Democrat Fernando Wood (Lee Pace) and Republican Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), an abolitionist ideologue whose goals are even loftier than Lincoln's. What follows is a tense race to secure enough votes to pass the first Constitutional Amendment in more than sixty years, a fascinating foray into the history of American politics, and a compelling character drama.
There comes a moment midway through Lincoln in which Spielberg, Oscar-nominated screenwriter Tony Kushner and award-winning method chameleon Daniel Day-Lewis offer an unfiltered glimpse into the inner-workings of Abraham Lincoln's mind. It only happens to such a densely packed extent once, and only lasts a few short minutes. But in those minutes we see Lincoln the decent and honorable man, unwilling to waver in his moral convictions, whatever the cost. The master tactician, willing to commit lesser political sins for the greater common good. The discerning Springfield lawyer, divining lawful from unlawful. The cunning politician, navigating the endless labyrinth of legalities, sanctions and allowances before him. The eloquent orator, rich in speech and sharp in tongue. The President of "these United States," with full authority and a frightening command of his faculties; a contrast to his aging body, declining posture and careful steps. It's a breathtaking scene, unapologetically minimalistic in its presentation -- a camera transfixed by Lincoln's weary face -- yet nearly inexhaustible in both its implication and revelation:
Now here's where it gets truly slippery. I use the law allowing for the seizure of property in a war knowing it applies only to the property of governments and citizens of belligerent nations. But the South ain't a nation, that's why I can't negotiate with them. If in fact the Negroes are property according to law, have I the right to take the rebels' property from them, if I insist they're rebels only and not citizens of a belligerent country? And slipperier still: I maintain it ain't our actual Southern states in rebellion but only the rebels living in those states, the laws of which states remain in force. The laws of which states remain in force. That means, that since it's the states' laws that determine whether Negroes can be sold as slaves, as property, the Federal government doesn't have a say in that. Least not yet when Negroes in those states are slaves, hence property, hence my war powers allow me to confiscate them as such. So I confiscated them. But if I'm a respecter of states' laws, how then can I legally free them with my Proclamation, as I done, unless I'm canceling states' laws? I felt the war demanded it. My oath demanded it. I felt right with myself, and I hoped it was legal to do it. I'm hoping still. Two years ago I proclaimed these people emancipated. "Then, hence forward and forever free."
But let's say the courts decide I had no authority to do it. They might well decide that. Say there's no amendment abolishing slavery. Say it's after the war and I can no longer use my war powers to just ignore the courts' decisions, like I sometimes felt I had to do. Might those people I freed be ordered back into slavery? That's why I'd like to get the Thirteenth Amendment through the House, and on its way to ratification by the states. Wrap the whole slavery thing up, forever and aye. As soon as I'm able. Now. End of this month. And I'd like you to stand behind me. Like my cabinet's most always done.
There are dozens of similar unorthodox dramatic beats -- some moving, some cerebral, some heartbreaking, some volatile -- but each one is just as hypnotic, if not more so. Daniel Day-Lewis' performance has been hailed as one of the greatest of his generation, and awarded numerous honors including a much-deserved Academy Award. Day-Lewis doesn't merely inhabit Lincoln's frame and figure, he all but summons the former President to Spielberg's stunningly realized historic stage, drawing from every available account of Lincoln's poise, presence and personality to forge a fully realized incarnation almost indistinguishable and henceforth inseparable from the man himself. And while much has been made of the actor's extreme method and utter commitment to the role, the results defy hyperbole and even what relatively little criticism has been leveled against the film. To wit: it isn't just one of the finest performances of 2012, it's one of the finest performances you'll likely ever see.
The lion's share of the credit can't simply be hoisted upon Day-Lewis' shoulders, though. Spielberg's command of the film rivals Day-Lewis' command of the screen, Kushner's screenplay (whittled down from a mammoth first draft) and dialogue crackles with uncompromising authenticity and reasonable creative freedom, Janusz Kaminski's cinematography is both gorgeous and wonderfully suited to the tone and tenor of the film, Rick Carter's production design and Joanna Johnston's costumes are wholly convincing... I could go on and on. Day-Lewis steals most every scene, I'll grant you, but any given scene is only his for the taking because of the enormously talented team working tirelessly at Spielberg's side. Surrounding Day-Lewis' Lincoln is also a smartly assembled supporting cast of memorable veterans and colorful character actors (some a bit too colorful). Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, Gloria Reuben and David Strathairn are terrific; Field especially, whose impassioned, sometimes embittered portrayal of a somewhat questionably astute Mary Todd Lincoln challenges Day-Lewis as fiercely as Lincoln's wife challenges the President. The majority of the remaining cast deliver as well, often one after another (Lee Pace, Hal Holbrook, Jackie Earle Haley, John Hawkes, Jared Harris, Walton Goggins, Stephen Henderson little Gulliver McGrath, to name just a few), and only a handful of actors are miscast, mismanaged or inject too much stagecraft into the proceedings (namely Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce McGill and James Spader).
Lincoln isn't a perfect film, mind you. The inevitable and arguably unavoidable historical inaccuracies will rile obstinate history buffs, even if those inaccuracies are so minor that any ensuing effect is negligible. The steadfast focus on the politics of war rather than any real look at the war itself will leave some viewers dissatisfied with everything from Spielberg and Kushner's pacing to their personal politics (of which little bleeds through). As far as I'm concerned, though, any concerns over pacing or hidden agendas amount to a non-issue, and in most cases nothing more than a thinly veiled version of "it's too long and too slow for me." Personally, aside from Gordon-Levitt, McGill, Spader and their ilk, I only have one problem with Lincoln, and it's the same misstep Spielberg took in Saving Private Ryan, an otherwise extraordinary film. That misstep? Unnecessary bookending. The cemetery scenes that open and close Saving Private Ryan are more egregious and irritating, but Lincoln isn't exempt; opening with a silent, masterfully shot glance at the brutality of war that's suddenly spoiled by an overtly sentimental and shamelessly contrived exchange between the President and a pair of African American soldiers, and closing with a strange dance-around Lincoln's assassination that stumbles into a flashback. Had the film began on a more subtle, less manipulative note, it would have been stronger for it. Had it ended as Lincoln left the White House, bound for Ford Theater, it would have been far more pointed and poignant; even if his exit dovetailed into the flashback, which, on its own merit, works quite well.
Regardless, Lincoln is an absorbing account of four months of the 16th President's life, powerful political theater and an engrossing period piece, and I'm frankly baffled every time I come across a complete dismissal of everything Spielberg and company have accomplished. I'm sure as baffled as those same viewers feel when reading such high praise as mine. To each his own, I suppose. Lincoln remains one of the most acclaimed and celebrated films of 2012, and deservedly so.
Lincoln Blu-ray, Video Quality
A compass, I learnt when I was surveying, it'll point you true north from where you're standing. But it's got no advice about the swamps, deserts and chasms that you'll encounter along the way. If, in pursuit of your destination, you plunge ahead heedless of obstacles and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp, what's the use of knowing true north?
Lincoln boasts a top tier 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer, true to Janusz Kaminski's intimate cinematography and director Steven Spielberg's beautifully evocative intentions. Like Spielberg's efforts, Kaminski's work is an exercise in artful restraint. Shooting in 35mm (with Kodak Vision3 500T 5219), the renowned DP employs light and shadow to great effect, and the Blu-ray presentation doesn't hinder or bind the results in the least. The period palette favors fog-bank blues, ashen greens, pale fleshtones and plate-glass grays and browns over anything more fervent, and yet nothing about it feels slight or insignificant. Color is bolstered on occasion, of course, but the results are no less deliberate or exacting. Contrast is dialed in perfectly as well -- with natural shadows and deep black levels that aren't subject to troubling crush -- and detail is excellent. Edge definition is clean and refined, textures are revealing, and Rick Carter's production design and Joanna Johnston's costumes are given plenty of opportunity to shine. There is a prevailing softness present, but none of it is cause for any concern. Kaminski used '80s Panavision Super Speed lenses to achieve a more filmic appearance, making each instance of diffuse lighting or softness one of thoughtful intention rather than problematic encoding. All told, the Disney/DreamWorks video presentation is a magnificent one, without any issues or shortcomings to report.
Lincoln Blu-ray, Audio Quality
I can't listen to this anymore. I can't accomplish a goddamn thing of any worth until we cure ourselves of slavery and end this pestilential war! I wonder if any of you or anyone else knows it. I know! I need this! This amendment is that cure! We've stepped out upon the world stage now. Now! With the fate of human dignity in our hands. Blood's been spilled to afford us this moment now! Now! Now! And you grouse so and heckle and dodge about like pettifogging Tammany Hall hucksters!
Like its video transfer, Lincoln's reverential, subsequently reference-level DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track values subtlety above all else, presenting the film's original sound design without fault and replicating its exceedingly immersive soundfield without fail. Voices, whispered or shouted, are firmly rooted in the soundstage and rightfully beholden to whatever room or hall they inhabit. Dialogue is clear, intelligible and impeccably prioritized, yet rarely, if ever, feels disconnected from the mix for the sake of clarity. The LFE channel is subdued but no less involved, lending weight and heft as needed, power and presence as called upon, and diligent support at all times. The rear speakers don't engage in overkill either, effectively creating a series of utterly convincing environments, complete with natural interior acoustics and carefully implemented ambience. Moreover, directional effects are accurate and involving, pans are wonderfully transparent and dynamics are spot on. Conversations, speeches and fiery debates may dominate the soundscape, but Lincoln's lossless audio mix concerns itself with recreating a time, a place and an era, and it succeeds at every turn.
Lincoln Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Lincoln is available via two Blu-ray releases: a 2-disc BD/DVD Combo with a single Blu-ray disc and 13-minutes of featurettes ("The Journey to Lincoln" and "A Historic Tapestry: Richmond, Virginia") and this 4-disc BD/DVD/Digital Copy Combo with two Blu-ray discs and nearly 80-minutes of bonus content. Is the additional hour of high definition special features worth the upcharge? I'd venture a "yes," but ultimately leave that to you and your wallet. The 4-disc Blu-ray release includes the following:
Lincoln Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Lincoln resonates for a number of reasons, none perhaps more so than this: at a time of unease, uncertainty, partisan bickering and unyielding filibustering in American politics, Spielberg and Kushner's blend of shrewd realism and principled idealism suggests all is not lost; that democracy is greater than those who would exploit its freedoms or stall its progress; that men and women of conviction will prevail, and that the will of the people and the common good will be their guide. Overly idealistic? Maybe. Still, cynicism accomplishes very little, and Lincoln stands apart from the overwhelmingly cynical political dramas that litter the market. The craft of the film and the quality of its direction, screenplay and performances make it all that much more mesmerizing, not to mention that much more effective. It may not be perfect, but it wholeheartedly believes in something that just might be. Disney's AV presentation is perfect, though, backed by a stunning, top tier video transfer and an outstanding DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track. Its supplemental package could use some work -- the 4-disc combo and its second disc of special features still only deliver 80-minutes of bonus content -- but it's by no means a deal breaker. Easily one of the best films of 2012, Lincoln is a quiet, powerful and, yes, important period drama as worthy of praise as its critically hailed lead performance.
Lincoln: Other Editions
Lincoln Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Exclusive Giveaway: Lincoln - April 8, 2013
Blu-ray.com, DreamWorks Pictures and Walt Disney Home Entertainment are offering five members an opportunity to win a copy of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon Levitt, David Strathairn and James Spader. ...
• Blu-ray Sales, March 25-31: Lincoln Scores Number One Sales - April 3, 2013
For the week that ended on March 31st, Disney and Touchstone Home Entertainment's Lincoln scored the top figures on both the overall package media and Blu-ray sales rankings. Director Steven Spielberg's historical drama drew rave reviews for its depiction of 16th ...
• This Week on Blu-ray: March 26-April 2 - March 24, 2013
For the week of March 26th, Disney and Touchstone Home Entertainment are bringing Lincoln to Blu-ray. Director Steven Spielberg's drama has received near-universal acclaim for Daniel Day-Lewis' performance as the title character, and this is one time where the ...
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