Putting aside the remarkable physical likeness, Lewis's portrait of Lincoln is both modestly grounded and masterfully complex. His shoulders are stooped, his smile warm and weary, and his voice is both higher-pitched and more timorous than we might expect. But the tenderness and melancholy, no doubt authentic to Lincoln's character, hide the great president's droll sense of humor, razor-sharp intelligence and cunning instincts. To some, he is a gentle and affable man who is given to homespun anecdotes that pack a metaphorical punch. To others, he is a shrewd and seasoned lawyer who knows how to wield the power of his personality and office. Lewis shows that he needs neither bluster nor gimmicks (as he is sometimes given to indulge in) to command the screen.
And yet, despite this, the film remains an emotionally detached experience. Perhaps sensing this, Spielberg inserts some family drama, with Abe's son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) insisting that he be permitted to join the war, and Sally Field's Mary Todd fretting and frothing that she won't lose another child.
It's hokey and distracting, and it unnecessarily cheapens Field's performance and character.
In the end, Lincoln demonstrates that history is made by ordinary people, and true leadership is the ability to overcome the drama of the moment in order to fulfill the wisdom of time. Spielberg's film illustrates how both Abraham Lincoln and members of Congress overcame the former in service of the latter. It is a lesson in duty and compromise that both the American electorate and its elected representatives would do well to learn.