Those being the amendment to abolish slavery and America's Civil War.
And during its 150 minute running time, there is never a moment where you think, or feel, that that level of expectation has not been met. From its "straight into it" beginning, through to its quietly sombre and reverent ending, Spielberg's Lincoln shows exactly why both its director and its subject will be long remembered.
This is a classic example of the bearded ones excellence at what he does (Spielberg) and yet, it isn't. The emotions that you know that can be manoeuvred and manipulated so easily are done so - frustration at setbacks, anger at stupidity, tears at both strength and sadness, laughter at smile-inducing dialogue - and yet the look of it feels somewhat alien to the man who so recently gave the world the likes of Warhorse and The Adventures Of Tintin. To fully appreciate the style used to bring Lincoln to the screen you would have to go back to Schindler's List where in the same year of its release, he also did Jurassic Park. In comparison, Schindler.. was a maturer piece with camerawork, timing, exposition and gravity to match. This was a relatively new style for the Indiana Jones and E.T. kid. Here, that same feeling of noticeable unexpectedness flows through every well-crafted moment, whether it be focused on Lincoln the President or Lincoln the man. The camera stays put mostly to allow the events and words to sink in with the audience and only seems to move when it pans around Lincoln during his prejudice-confronting, life-altering speeches. So, as the camera slowly moves, so to does the hearts and minds of those listening to it.
To help pull this off, the bearded one needs someone exceptional to play the "other bearded one" and in Daniel Day-Lewis he has just such a person. Whether you're a fan or not of Day-Lewis or his work, no one deny that here he seems to have found possibly his acting career highlight - for all intents and purpose, this is Lincoln up upon the screen. The likeness is unnaturally uncanny when compared from your memories of pictures and statues, and the mannerisms, voice and walk is just how you would imagine the great President to be. This tied in with the stirring speeches, the shrewd mind concerning his political enemies and his attempts at keeping his human emotions at bay concerning his different family members (love and frustration at his wife and her mental and physical illness, protectiveness and letting go for his eldest son who wishes to fight in The Civil War) all add up to a no-brainer for why he has been nominated for an Oscar.
Although he may carry the bulk of the film, he is not without some great support. Boasting a veritable list of recognisable stars from both small and big screen, there are a few scene-stealing individuals to marvel at alongside Day-Lewis. Spader as the secretly hired "obtainer of votes" to ensure the Presidents successful passing of The Thirteenth Amendment is as fun as he is graceless and loud - he is the only person to swear in front of Lincoln - but the real contender for your soul and affection is Lee Jones. Imagine if his Jerrard character from The Fugitive grew old and was transported back to 1865, then you'd be on the right track. Cranky, opinionated and relentless, Lee Jones both then and now, chews up and spits out all that share the screen with him with equal smile and wince-inducing dialogue ( his response to a knock at his door - "it opens!")
The only risk taken by Spielberg and co would seem to be the concentration of the time line in the film. The source novel depicted Lincoln's rise to The White House but here there is no back story nor is there any dwelling on his theatre assassination. It is all about the man and his struggle to have The Thirteenth Amendment passed before the opportunity disappears. Whilst The Civil War rages on forever in the background, that is where its kept. There is no Saving Private Ryan horror reenactment for the audience to be reminded of how bad things were - the horror here is the battle for what now seems so natural and understandable to us but back then was conceived as unimaginable and even a sin against God himself!
An emotional ride that you will feel glad that you watched, it is not one for the popcorn pundits looking for a no-brainer, switch-off experience. It holds a mirror up to the ideals and standards that were prevalent in 1865 but which however have not entirely been eradicated and shows you how strong men must behave and what they must do in order to stand up for what is right and to make changes.
Poignant. Powerful. Provoking.
UK release date: 25.01.13