Half a score years ago, eminent actor and shoemaking enthusiast Daniel Day-Lewis starred as the ruthless-yet-charismatic Bill the Butcher in Martin Scorcese’s urban epic, “Gangs of New York.” In that film, he cursed, cut and conspired his way through the slums of 1860s’ New York — culminating in the 1863 draft riots. Now, ten years later, he’s back in the same time period. Only this time, Day-Lewis ain’t no lowly butcher. Oh no. He’s traded his knives in for a top hat, his grisly accent in for a smooth and modest tone. That’s right. He’s Abraham “Fucking” Lincoln: Sex God of the Civil War. (That should have been the title of the movie, but alas, it is not).
The trailer for Spielberg’s long-anticipated biopic of the 16th President of the United States was just released — in a bizarrely forced fashion by Google Play — and from the looks of it, Lincoln had it pretty rough. No shit Spielberg. Yes, the content is hardly surprising. The film follows the last four months of Lincoln’s life which, along with the rest of his existence, have essentially become legend for anyone who attended, at the very least, Kindergarten. The cultural representations of Lincoln as so vast, in fact, that several historians refer to this phenomenon as the “Lincoln industry.” And Spielberg’s film does not differ from this tendency towards hagiography.
In sweeping shots with even-more-sweeping scores to back them, we see Day-Lewis loom as Lincoln (seriously, Lincoln was tall but not Hagrid tall), look pensive as Lincon and speak as Lincoln. Well, kind of. The accuracy may be questionable. By most contemporary accounts, Lincoln had a “shrill,” somewhat higher-pitched voice than what we’re used to. But, what remains of the trailer is what one would expect — a fairly standard overview of the man everyone knows and yet, a man who still seems such a mystery. The problem with biopics, and biopics of presidents in particular, is their inability to access the interiority of such a grandiose public figure. “Frost/Nixon” may be one of the few films to carry this off. That was Nixon though. Lincoln is Lincoln — the most grandiose of them all. “Lincoln” will be released in November, so we’ll all have to wait until then to see if Spielberg presents the man, as he claims to have done, or the myth. (Note: Weird that there’s no mention of Lincoln’s greatest accomplishment in this trailer — his defeat of the vampires).