A driving theme of Steven Spielberg movies is how ordinary men with strong moral cores find the strength to do extraordinary things in the face of great opposition. Those characters include the never-say-die Indiana Jones, the determined Captain Miller in "Saving Private Ryan" and the heroic Oskar Schindler in "Schindler's List."
Spielberg's latest examination of that theme comes in "Lincoln," which concentrates on the efforts by the 16th president to get the 13th Amendment passed to constitutionally abolish slavery. It's a little-told story in the Lincoln legacy despite how much this effort defined his legacy.
The task of portraying the ordinary man with a strong moral core goes to British actor Daniel Day-Lewis, whose makeup makes him look like he posed for the five dollar bill. Day-Lewis plays Abraham Lincoln as a man of vision, often given to making his points through rambling stories. Besides being in charge of the country during the most divided time in American history, Lincoln also must contend with the grief at the loss of a child, the maddening moments of his wife (Sally Field) and the efforts by his oldest son (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to enlist.
Even when he's walking across the room, Day-Lewis plays Lincoln as a man who's been beaten down by the ever growing weight of the world. While his demeanor is passive, the actor never lets you forget that Lincoln knew his actions would forever paint a picture of a very young United States for the world. That part of the film is played out with the same detailed examination of character that's such a trademark of Spielberg movies.
What isn't typical is the often stilted and stayed construction of the story. Of the film's 150 minute running time, 140 are scenes of politicians arguing, discussing, denying, debating and arguing some more. Just as in the musical "1776," what these men are talking about is important. But, unlike the musical -- or any other Spielberg movie -- the presentation is so dark and dreary that it seems like some scenes go on for four score seventy minutes.