When the poster for Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln first dropped, there was little to say apart from “it’s arrived.” However handsome, this grayscale shot of Daniel Day-Lewis sporting familiar facial hair is void of ambitious design elements. The use of profile calls to mind the 16th president’s most famous likeness, but beyond that, the only flourish of note is the Gladiator title font.
Of course, that hardly mattered to the millions who clicked, viewed, and shared the image, the first official ad linked to this beefy merger of actor, director, and subject. It was about this time last year when we were given the first poster of Meryl Streep as The Iron Lady, another baity promo that didn’t need to reach beyond an announcement. Such momentous roles from such venerated thespians—both of whom hurdled to Oscar’s front line with a single in-character photo—basically sell themselves. If there’s anything provocative within the Lincoln poster, it’s a dose of quiet audacity, a knowing awareness that no bells and whistles are necessary here. If posters could talk, this self-satisfied specimen would merely echo the common sentiment: “I’ve arrived. Ogle me.”
Like the movie it touts, the one-sheet has some end-of-the-line authenticity, as if it’s the final, genuine article after a stretch of Honest Abe also-rans. Its black-and-white palette echoes the posters for The Conspirator and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, two recent films that tried and failed to cash in on the love for everyone’s favorite emancipator. Both preceding ads incorporated the Lincoln Memorial, be it that iconic, sculpted face or that famed marble throne, wryly tweaked for senseless revisionist history. With Lincoln, all we have is Day-Lewis, and that’s just about enough.
There was a time when Russell Crowe was the actor whom discerning sects of the masses felt it cool to love. Before long, Crowe’s post was seized by Johnny Depp, the pretty and pretty-weird character player who suddenly rose to leading-man bankability. At some point, the torch was passed to Daniel Day-Lewis, a minimally accessible, hardly prolific artiste who still grabbed the mainstream’s imagination with his sheer magnitude of talent. In the 55-year-old’s limited filmography, there’s little that reads as a crossover hit—a film that equally entranced your mother, brother, and film-buff best friend. Yet, ask all three to name their favorite actors, and odds are Day-Lewis will land on each list. Lincoln is, finally, the project poised to unite and please Day-Lewis lovers of all walks. It hinges on a universally exciting role, embodied by that most enigmatically alluring of popular male stars. When the thought surfaces that there likely won’t be a soul who won’t want to see this movie, its confidently unadorned poster seems practically perfect.