Abe Lincoln as You’ve Never Heard Him

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“NOW he belongs to the ages,” Edwin Stanton, Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war, said at the president’s deathbed. “And to the studios,” he could have added.

The latest in a long parade of screen Abes, coming right on the heels of Benjamin Walker’s ax-swinging, martial arts version in “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” is Daniel Day-Lewis, who, though he grew up in England and Ireland and had to learn about Lincoln almost from scratch, plays the lead in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” which opens Friday.

Mr. Day-Lewis, 55, has already won two best actor Oscars, and his performance here, tender and soulful, convincingly weary and stoop-shouldered, will almost certainly earn him a nomination. He’s neither as zombified as Walter Huston in D. W. Griffith’s 1930 biopic “Abraham Lincoln,” nor as brash and self-assured as Henry Fonda in John Ford’s “Young Mr. Lincoln” (1939), nor as stagy and ponderous as Raymond Massey, a year later, in “Abe Lincoln in Illinois,” in which he sounds, during the Lincoln-Douglas debates, a lot like the television evangelist Harold Camping proclaiming the end of the world once more....

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