Further credit must be given to certain supporting players, chief amongst them Tommy Lee Jones, who plays abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens. Stevens is a bit of a bully, but for the right reasons – for too long he has witnessed the injustice of slavery, and Jones portrays his outspoken assertiveness with great aplomb, coming across as an asshole we can't help but like because we know he's on the right side. David Strathairn, too, shines as Secretary of State William Seward, who supports Lincoln wholeheartedly but is often exasperated by the radical lengths he is willing to take, even if it's for the right reasons.
It should be noted that, despite the fine performances, there is perhaps a feeling of over-acting, of a flair for the slightly dramatic. It feels, at many times, almost as if the viewer is watching a play (which is logical considering Kushner's greatest contributions to the written word). The theater is notorious for its players portraying their characters as larger-than-life, perhaps presenting themselves as more calculated and deliberate than is realistic. Thus is the case with the characters in Lincoln. It is largely thanks to the talent and likability of the actors which keeps this from becoming overbearing and saccharine - for the most part. (Sally Field portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln, for example, rankled this reviewer at times.)
There is, however, a small kink in the works, and that flaw is the musical score of John Williams. Williams is a talented composer - a great composer - and greatly deserving of the acclaim he has received over the entirety of his illustrious career. His score for Lincoln is, really, quite good – objectively. However, in the context of the film, it is calculated. Naturally, any good musical score is “calculated” - music is an essential part of the film experience. It serves to guide the mood and heighten the emotional impact of any given scene. This is why it's important to be so careful of it – it is so easy to achieve overkill, and this is what happens in Lincoln. As previously mentioned, so many aspects of the film are so strong already that when Williams' notes come wafting in, a firm and inspirational scene becomes Inspirational – with a capital “I.” It is overdone, calculated, as mentioned, to tug at the heart-strings, and the viewer feels played. This level of deliberate Feeling is simply not necessary, and in fact detracts from the overall experience.
However, we can expect Lincoln to dominate at the Oscars, raking in at least a dozen nominations, by this reviewer's honest-yet-cynical predictions. The old white men who run the show love this kind of thing, so, warranted or not, expect some kind of a sweep. Luckily, the film is actually deserving of much of the acclaim it has accrued thus far, and while the discriminating film fanatic may not believe it merits many of the Academy Awards it's destined to win in the face of several more worthy candidates, we can at least rest assured that they are given for a reason.
Cover photo: Rotten Tomatoes
Heading image: Internet Movie Database