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Portrait of a president - Lincoln'

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Spielberg, Day-Lewis bring history to life

Every once in a while, moviegoers are treated to a perfect cinematic storm, a confluence of talent that all but assures excellence. It is a rare and wonderful thing to see unfailingly exceptional actors, writers, director and subject matter come together in the same place at the same time. When they do, the result is true movie magic.

If you're lucky, the result is a movie like 'Lincoln.'

The film stars Daniel Day-Lewis ('There Will Be Blood') as the titular 16th president. Hollywood legend Steven Spielberg is behind the camera, while the script was adapted by Tony Kushner from historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's book 'Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.'

That's some serious firepower right there. When you've got a group like that lined up, anything other than brilliance is bound to be a disappointment and 'Lincoln' does not disappoint.

Bear in mind that this is not a typical biopic; the film focuses on the final four months of Lincoln's life. The Civil War is breathing its last bloody gasps, but fighting still rages on. The country is sick and tired of all the bloodshed. However, Lincoln has additional goals in mind the Thirteenth Amendment, to be exact.

While many of his advisors, including Secretary of State Seward (David Strathairn, 'The Bourne Legacy') and his wife Mary (Sally Field, 'The Amazing Spider-Man'), are urging the president to find a way to bring an immediate end to the fighting, Lincoln is striving to find a way any way to push the anti-slavery amendment through the House of Representatives, believing that he will be unable to do so once the Confederate states are returned to the Union.

To that end, he attempts to enlist the help of his political rival Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones, 'Hope Springs'), a fervent abolitionist. He also engages in what some might deem questionable tactics in an attempt to win the opposition votes necessary to overcome the Republican disadvantage in the House.

Outstanding performances are thick on the ground in this film. Daniel Day-Lewis has built a reputation as one of the finest actors of his generation a well-deserved reputation to which he more than lives up. His Lincoln is a study in subtlety; he has the stooped shoulders of a man who has been bearing the weight of his country through one of its most difficult times. Day-Lewis invests Lincoln's political oratory and private intimacy with the same power. Simply put, it is a magnificent performance one for which the actor will be recognized come awards season.

But Day-Lewis is not alone. Jones is marvelous as Stevens, balancing the man's curmudgeonly nature with his powerful conviction. He's unafraid to be silent; that silence resonates while informing what he does say with significance. There's a shrillness to Field that really clicks with the character, while Strathairn's officious Seward offers a microcosmic look at the methodology of the politician of the day. James Spader, Bruce McGill, Hal Holbrook and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a host of others also turn in dynamic performances.

Steven Spielberg is a master of his craft. He also seems to have a real love and investment in this project. When he imbues his talent with passion, the result is inevitably great cinema. His sense of story is perhaps unparalleled in Hollywood today and this is a story he clearly dearly wants to tell.

As an aside, I believe this may be the first film in Hollywood history in which the work of a Pulitzer Prize winner (Goodwin, who won the History Pulitzer in 1995) was adapted for the screen by a different Pulitzer winner (Kushner, who won the Drama prize in 1993). Anyone reading this who happens to know different, please contact me. I'd love to be proved wrong.

Too often, highly anticipated films such as this one turn out to be less than the sum of their parts. That is not the case with 'Lincoln.' In fact, it might be even better than its individual pieces, which is frankly astonishing. Call it the clubhouse leader for the Best Picture Oscar.

5 out of 5

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