One of the year’s finest cinematic experiences, Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is a movie bursting with formidable talent, including its legendary director, its brilliant screenwriter (Tony Kushner, teaming with Spielberg again after 2005’s “Munich”), and its vast and gifted company of recognizable actors, who join to form a vintage community united by tectonic shifts. The film covers the last four months in the life of Abraham Lincoln (an Oscar-bound Daniel Day-Lewis), who’s faced with the dual challenges of abolishing slavery and ending the Civil War. From an unidentified black soldier (David Oyelowo) on up to Lincoln’s secretary of state (David Strathairn), every walk of life seems accounted for, and impacted by the magnitude of the times.
Adapted by Kushner from portions of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals,” “Lincoln” contains the kind of flowing, delectable dialogue many have come to expect from the playwright/screenwriter, whose “Angels in America” stands as one of the greatest works of the 20th century. Again merging a graceful humanism with a first-rate ear for political discourse, Kushner pens a narrative that takes us behind the doors of both Lincoln’s home (where the president locks horns with Sally Field’s riveting Mary Todd) and offices (where 19th-century politics are rendered resonantly cutthroat).
The millions who regard Lincoln as a historical hero won’t be disappointed here, and yet, this far-from-conventional biopic is keen to dispel the grammar-school romanticism so tightly tied to its subject. By turns, the president is seen as ponderous, doubtful, calculating, malleable, driven, lonely, and, yes, heroic. The film may have a certain liberal slant, but its bearded beanpole of a central figure is painted, largely, with fascinating objectivity.
This is not the presidential epic one might expect from Spielberg, who just last year gave us “War Horse,” a throwback adventure adorned with every last weepy flourish. For his latest, he pulls the reins back considerably, offering a restrained, talking-room drama that’s nevertheless a winning spectacle. Boosted by his regular collaborators, like DP Janusz Kaminski and composer John Williams, “Lincoln” is one of the director’s best films, and possibly his smartest.
Three-and-a-half reels out of four
Opens in area theaters tomorrow
Pixar’s first animated flick with a female lead isn’t its greatest title, but it’s one that deserves a look from all, telling an offbeat and poignant mother-daughter tale that’s rare in the toon universe. Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is a plucky Scottish feminist, who’d rather target-shoot than tidy up the kitchen. Her scoffing at an arranged marriage kicks off the fantasy story, and her springy red coif is reason enough to drink in the film’s visuals.
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