Spielberg's epic portrait of Abraham Lincoln focuses primarily on January 1865, shortly after Lincoln's reelection and during his feverish attempt to pass the 13th Amendment, which would formally abolish slavery in the United States, before his political opponents could stop it. This is serious history book stuff, and if Spielberg and Co. can't entirely keep their film from feeling like homework, Lincoln remains a fascinating and authentic document of our government in action during the country's most painful period.
Daniel Day-Lewis's performance as Honest Abe is already the stuff of legend; as usual, he is operating at the top of his craft. The all-star cast (well, a combination of stars and hip character actors) may seem to distract from the drama at first, but I accepted the famous faces in their roles – after all, they're playing some pretty important historical figures here. Spielberg directs with reserve and economy; John Williams' manipulative score alone makes the film feel traditionally "Spielbergian". The real star of the show, besides, Day-Lewis, is playwright Tony Kushner's deeply involved and very talky dialogue. (Admittedly, the film might be found a little dull by those not swept up by its subject matter.)
Everybody here has clearly worked hard to give you an accurate depiction of the canny political maneuvering that got the 13th Amendment passed – and just in the nick of time, as the Civil War would be over less than three months later, and Lincoln himself would be dead days after that. As such, the film ends on a note of extreme sadness, when you get such a strong sense of what a great, honorable, and dedicated man Lincoln was, and how cruelly his life was snuffed out.
It's hard not to watch Lincoln and think about the political stalemate our current administration is often finding itself in, but although these men's passionate debate over slavery makes 2012's hyperbolic fretting over Obamacare and the "fiscal cliff" look like so much hot air, it also serves as a reminder that the things in America that we now take for granted had to be fought for – often violently – against powerful and horrifically stubborn opponents.