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A moment in the life of a nation

movie reviews Updated: Feb 08, 2013 23:45 IST
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Direction: Steven Spielberg
Actors: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field
Rating: ****1/2

Re-elected to the nation’s highest office for a second term, Abraham Lincoln is driven to pass a constitutional amendment which would abolish slavery and alter the course of history.

The astute politician simultaneously negotiates with representatives of the southern states to bring an end to the protracted Civil War in which over six hundred thousand lives had already been lost. A couple of scenes of the conflict are genuinely distressing.

The viewer is privy to the elaborate behind-the-scenes manoeuvering to sway undecided congressmen to vote for the contentious legislation. Then, as now, the democratic process seems tainted by the occasional murky deal, which in this case involves offering plum administrative jobs to woo the naysayers.

The depiction of mid-19th century American life is flavourful. We are brought up close and personal with an all-too-human president as he grapples with the mood swings of his temperamental wife (Sally Field, superb) and their eldest son’s decision to enlist in the war.

Lincoln’s penchant for telling folksy parables at the drop of his stovepipe lightens an otherwise sombre scenario. In a poignant scene, the president reflects on Euclid’s axioms before approving a telegram that could affect the outcome of the war.

Speilberg has assembled an impressive ensemble. Daniel Day-Lewis is mesmerising. It should surprise no one, if by the end of this month he creates history by winning his third Best Actor Oscar after My Left Foot (1989) and There Will Be Blood (2007).

Resonant on a historical as well as an emotional level, Lincoln is a triumph. Don’t miss it.