At the Movies
Michael Wood on Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln (LRB, 20 December 2012):
The film would be worth seeing for this performance alone. All the apparatus of a Lincoln portrait is in place, as it would have to be: the beard, the stoop, the hat, the long coat. It’s a bit like putting together a kit for dressing up as Groucho Marx. The voice is pitched a little high, and some people have complained about that. It sounded good to me, though, and as you look at this face, the intelligent eyes, the kindly wrinkles of the makeup, the constant but discreet signs of someone thinking behind this mask, you feel you are looking at two quite different people. First, an Abraham Lincoln of legend, loyally reproduced, the man he is supposed to be – ‘the greatness of Napoleon, Caesar or Washington is only moonlight by the sun of Lincoln,’ Tolstoy said, quoted by Goodwin in an epigraph – but quietly, modestly set before us. And second, a man inside this man who is far from sure that ‘Lincoln’ is anything other than a caricature, the front for a wily politician and a worried father and husband, the screen where the necessary projections can gather. I don’t mean Day-Lewis is ironic about his role, although there are one or two nice touches of that in the film. I mean Lincoln is ironic about his role, and it’s an extraordinary achievement to get this across without ruining the icon.