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Dan's Review: Lincoln

A great film about a great Republican.
Lincoln (Dreamworks)

Rated PG-13 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language.

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gulliver McGrath, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Lee Pace, Jackie Earle Haley, Gregory Itzin, Bruce McGill, Walton Goggins, Gloria Reuben, Jared Harris, Wayne Duvall, David Oyelowo, James Spader, John Hawkes, Hal Holbrook, Tim Blake Nelson, Joseph Cross, David Costabile, David Warshofsky, Jeremy Strong, Dakin Matthews, Boris McGiver, Byron Jennings, Richard Topol, S. Epatha Merkerson, Julie White.

Written by Tony Kushner, based on part of a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Directed by Steven Speilberg.

GRADE: A

REVIEW:


There are few presidents revered as Abraham Lincoln. I'll admit he's one of my favorites, and that his wisdom and grace could be useful in troubled times like today. Portraying Lincoln in film or television often borders on the silly (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) to the robotic (1964 World Fair and Disneyland's famous automatron) to several classic versions of 'Honest Abe' in movies and TV miniseries. It was encouraging to know Steven Spielberg was taking a crack at a new major motion picture on the man who brought the country from the brink of disaster during the Civil War, given the famed director's penchant for historical dramas (Amistad, Saving Private Ryan, War Horse) set in real-life conflicts.

Daniel Day-Lewis plays Lincoln during the closing months of the Civil War, at a time when the confederacy was making gestures of negotiating a peace accord. Besides the war, Lincoln's priority is to pass and ratify the 13th Amendment, which would outlaw slavery. Met with opposition from his own Republican party and nearly every democrat, Lincoln enlists his secretary of state William Seward (David Strathairn) to put together a team of back-room dealers who will recruit congressmen to come over to his side. The team consists of Colonel Robert Latham (John Hawkes), Richard Schell (Tim Blake Nelson) and William N. Bilboe (James Spader), who pretty much bribe as many lame duck democrats into passing the amendment with the needed 2/3 majority.

Along the way, Lincoln also presses other political players including influential republican Francis Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook) and fierce abolitionist Thaddeus Stephens (Tommy Lee Jones), both of whom have separate agendas. The president must also deal with family problems, including Mary Todd Lincoln's (Sally Field) famous temper and bouts with depression along with his eldest son Robert's (Joseph Gordon Leavitt) desire to quit Harvard Law school and join the Union army.

Oh, and did I mention the war? Yeah, that's still going on, which most know was not exactly a tickle-fight.

The fight for the 13th Amendment rages on as both sides jockey for position and it all seems doomed to fail.

The rest, as the say, is history, and you can look up the details on Wikipedia. It's also probably no mystery that Lincoln was assassinated shortly after the end of the war. Spielberg walks a fine, tasteful line as he depicts this tragic event with all the reverence and historical significance it deserves.

Lincoln is a great film, anchored by another fantastic, transcending performance by Daniel Day-Lewis. No one may know how the real Lincoln moved, spoke or carried himself, but Lewis' portrayal never allows you to be aware that there is an actor in costume performing as the president. He IS Lincoln, and you believe that from the moment he dons the stovepipe hat to the utterance of his great speeches. One quirk captured so well by Lewis is Lincoln's well-known sense of humor and ability to teach through stories. Lewis should be on tap for another Oscar nomination, and might win his third.

For those who are not enamored with the Lincoln persona, it should noted that the film does paint the president in favorable light. Spielberg and Doris Kearns Goodwin's version of Lincoln does lean toward hero worship, but also depicts the man as measured (especially in the first half of the film) in his views toward slavery, instead of being the passionate abolitionist popular culture would have us believe. The film also ignores some of Lincoln's less-than-constitutional actions, leaving plenty of room for historical debate.

Besides Daniel Day-Lewis, others are equally brilliant in their supporting roles, although there are so many it's difficult to name stand-outs. Three of them worth mentioning are Sally Fields, James Spader and Tommy Lee Jones. Jones and Fields are more than likely "locks" for award consideration, and while Spader probably doesn't qualify for a supporting award (since he has so little screen time), he definitely steals the limited amount of the scenes he graces.

Lincoln should also get a lot of award consideration for its cinematography, art direction, makeup, costumes and script...all of which are noteworthy. Spielberg deserves a lot of credit as well, handling such an ambitious project with such a huge cast of talented actors.

For some, Lincoln will not dazzle as much as it will inspire and cause reflection on such an important (and often overlooked) part of the nation's history. Some may get a little bored with all the dialogue, not possessing the proper historical context. For those who do understand the beautiful significance of the 13th Amendment, Lincoln will make their hearts burst with pride for a man whose evolved vision, determination and compassion transcended the politics and pitfalls of the the days when the involuntary servitude of our fellow men and women was a very real thing.


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