11/13/2012 02:28 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

AFI Fest Review: Lincoln

A complex score of one of America's most beloved, yet controversial presidents, Spielberg's latest effort triumphs beyond its stumbles. Like any good character study, the film builds slowly and ultimately burgeons cautiously to satisfying climax.

At its heart, Lincoln is an underdog story of a man trying to end The Civil War and pass The 13th Amendment under great opposition and extraordinary adversity. (Unique to this particular movie, the underdog happens to be the most powerful man in the country.) It may take a while to get into, and I suggest brushing up on your Civil War Era history, but once Lincoln gets moving you find yourself fully immersed in 1865 (one of he most tumultuous, uncertain eras in American history). The action takes place in the last months of The American Civil War, the last months of Lincoln's presidency, the last months of his life.

LINCOLN 093915 Daniel Day-Lewis stars as President Abraham Lincoln in this scene from director Steven Spielberg's drama "Lincoln" from DreamWorks Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox. ©DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The story begins at The Battle of Fort Stevens with Lincoln becoming the first standing president to witness a war battle. The only war scene in the movie is quickly inhaled by our iconic hero and transformed to a political and intimate battle of one man's ideals against the supreme pressure of the times in which he lived. Janusz Kaminski accents Tony Kushner's incisive dialogue with the most striking cinematography. Along with an all-star costume design, art direction, make up department, set design and an enticing cast; Spielberg delivers his best feature in over 10 years and invites opposition to be named the best film of the year.

The film succeeds in holding your mind hostage beyond the screen. It leaves an audience to wonder about Lincoln: the politician, the leader and the man. It confronts issues of freedom we debate to this day. It is a true parable of conviction and triumph that leaves questions of our political systems. What happened to the Republican Party? How can justice and ignorance co-exist? Are we currently living in a united nation? Abraham Lincoln is a man who was assassinated for his moral stance against slavery. In my lifetime, I have not seen such a man.


LINCOLN L-00131R Daniel Day-Lewis stars as President Abraham Lincoln
in this scene from director Steven Spielberg's drama "Lincoln" from DreamWorks Pictures
and Twentieth Century Fox. ©DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC.
All Rights Reserved.

The film's major achievement is the creation of the grand world in which Lincoln exists in balance with the quiet, tender internal struggle he endured. The best way to describe this film is through Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi. Joni Mitchell paints the scene of a world changing, being ravaged by industry and farmers using DDT and the death of nature and big world concerns for the future... all these political ideas. "Don't it always seem to go, you don't know what you got till it's gone." Then the last verse of the song simply states, "Late last night I heard the screen door slam, and a big yellow taxi took away my old man." And the name of the song is Big Yellow Taxi. Politics do not matter unless applied to personal experience. That is the genius of Joni Mitchell, the genius of this film and the genius of Steven Spielberg.

Spielberg is able to take grandiose, cinematic ideas (like dinosaurs walking the earth or aliens invading) and turn them into relatable, human experiences. He paints the scene with graphic conventions and then colors it with emotion. Spielberg makes it clear to understand why Lincoln is such a well-liked historical figure. He used his human touch to impact humanity. At the end of the day, the film leads to curiosity about history, about the principles this nation was founded on and about the truth surrounding all of it. And it is curiosity that strangles ignorance and dissolves hatred. Abraham Lincoln, by nature of his gentle, sincere love of country and those who inhabit it, changed the way people think. In our modern, corporate world, we need only to heed his words. "We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."