A Lincoln Portrait
The Great Emancipator transcends the material, as usual.
Dec 10, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 13 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
So what happened? Spielberg first announced his intention to make a movie about Lincoln a decade ago, with Liam Neeson in the role. A few years later, Doris Kearns Goodwin published her mammoth bestseller Team of Rivals. Spielberg optioned it, and its penultimate chapter gave rise to the idea of centering the movie on the passage of the 13th Amendment, which only takes up a handful of pages in the book. The project stopped and started many times, Spielberg has said, before the elements came together.
The point is, Spielberg wanted to make a movie about Lincoln but had no idea what kind of movie to make—and it shows. Kushner gave him a crackling behind-the-scenes melodrama and Daniel Day-Lewis has given him one of the greatest performances ever recorded by a camera. And Spielberg took them and tried to stuff them inside a static diorama. That the movie works at all—and it does, often brilliantly—is a miracle in itself.
John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is The Weekly Standard’s movie critic.