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'Lincoln' the man towers over all, but this homage to him doesn't

After this week's election, some pundits are saying that America is more divided than it has ever been. These people need to see "Lincoln."

For the rest of us, it's by no means a must-see. Daniel Day-Lewis is certain to win an Oscar nomination for his transformation to the iconic American president. But Steven Spielberg, the talented director who hasn't made an original film in quite some time, wastes the talent he's assembled here. "Lincoln" isn't a moving tribute to the man who helped an entire people gain their freedom. It's a platitudinous political drama about how the House of Representatives passed Lincoln's baby, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which outlawed slavery.

"Lincoln" begins by putting the audience right in the carnage of the Civil War. Men in the mud, all Americans, are killing each other, sometimes in hand-to-hand combat with punches or strangulation, sometimes with a rifle or a bayonet. It's January 1865. The war has gone on for nearly four years; it'll go on four months more.

On screen
2 out of 4 stars
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn
Director: Steven Spielberg
Rated: PG-13 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language
Running time: 149 minutes

Afterward, some of the soldiers talk to their commander in chief. Black and white both quote snatches of the Gettysburg Address, providing an interesting way of getting it into the movie without having Day-Lewis re-enact it. But Lincoln still towers over everyone else -- quite literally.

The Civil War might have started, and continued, because of complicated reasons, but here they're all boiled down to one: slavery. Lincoln wants to get his constitutional amendment passed before peace. But declaring black men equal to white is an unpopular notion in the House, and Lincoln has to work hard both to keep his fellow Republicans on board -- some are skeptical, while others, like Thaddeus Stevens (a slightly out-of-place Tommy Lee Jones), don't think Lincoln's going far enough -- and earn some votes from the opposing Democrats.

Day-Lewis might be the best actor working today, and his Lincoln is a sight to behold. He gets at the wisdom and charm that made him so beloved, in his own time and beyond. He doesn't evince much of the melancholy, though, which is disappointing -- it was an essential aspect of the man.

Sally Field is Mary Todd Lincoln. She's a fine actress, but she's just turned 66 and is completely unbelievable as the mother of a young son.

The billionaire Spielberg has gotten blockbuster filmmaker down to a science. Here, you know exactly when the moment is about to arrive that will be played during the Oscar telecast for the announcement of the Best Actor nominees. Four years -- and decades before and after -- of brutal history have been stripped down to almost nothing here.