The MVP of “Lincoln” is screenwriter Tony Kushner. The writer of “Angels in America” crafts something miraculous in his script for “Lincoln,” which is that he makes politics seem fun. In a fog of election fatigue, this movie is the clear light shining through, and it all starts with Kushner’s words.
Ripe with humor, “Lincoln” provides great personality and great dialogue to all of its characters and in fact runs on this dialogue-driven vigor for most of its running time. Kushner’s screenplay provides director Steven Spielberg with a great story to direct (the two previously collaborated on “Munich”), but even more so Kushner provides actor Daniel Day-Lewis with his umpteenth “role of a lifetime.”
Of course, this could be said about “There Will Be Blood” or “My Left Foot” or any other role that Day-Lewis has knocked completely out of the park, which is to say most of them. With an extreme dedication to detail of performance, Day-Lewis plays our 16th American President as a grandfather-type, constantly offering up amusing anecdotes and insightful wisdom. I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised if at one point Lincoln slapped his knee and asked a member of Senate to sit on his lap.
And Day-Lewis’s sheer absorption into this role is something to be marveled at. The look we have only seen pictures of, the acts we have only read about, the voice that we have never heard — Day-Lewis brings Lincoln to life straight out of the history books. It has Oscar written all over it.
But the great performances don’t stop with Day-Lewis. Tommy Lee Jones plays Thaddeus Stevens, one of the most powerful members of Congress at the time, with a biting one-two combo of comically caustic one-liners and riotous reaction shots. The triad of James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson as Lincoln lobbyists is something to marvel at (especially Spader, who briefly offers some of the movie’s funniest lines). And Joseph Gordon-Levitt has momentary shine as Lincoln’s eldest son Robert.