Sunday, November 18, 2012

“Lincoln” – Movie Review



This past weekend, my movie class had a bonus screening of the historical drama “Lincoln”, starring Daniel Day – Lewis and directed by Steven Spielberg.



While the Civil War rages on, United States President Abraham Lincoln seeks to end slavery nationwide – but can it be accomplished despite resistance from within his own political party?



At the beginning of 1865, United States President Abraham Lincoln (Day - Lewis) starts his second term after being re – elected only a couple of months prior in spite of the fact that his country’s Civil War relentlessly continues, seemingly without an end in sight.  While he is fully aware of the fact that something must be done soon to end the war, he nevertheless struggles to simultaneously abolish slavery by getting Congress to pass the 13th Amendment to The Constitution which would forever abolish slavery throughout the entire nation. 

Knowing that he might not have enough votes to pass the Amendment in The House Of Representatives, Lincoln has his Secretary Of State William Seward (David Strathairn) commission a team of men to lobby a group of Democratic Congressmen to vote in favor of the Amendment.   This, however, will not be an easy task for a number of complicated reasons.  For one thing, many people believe that the President’s focus should be on ending the war which has already taken many lives and gone on for far too long.  Second, not only is there significant opposition to the end of slavery, there is a fear that doing so would have a ripple effect of granting equality to Negros, leading the way to give them the right to vote.  Additionally, Lincoln’s fellow Republicans do not agree with their President, who insists that abolishing slavery will hasten the end to the war. 

All the while, this is taking a toll on the President’s personal life as well.  His eldest son Robert (Joseph Gordon – Levitt) is rapidly losing interest in school as his desire to enlist in the Army increases.  Learning of this, his mother, Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field), applies pressure to her husband to convince Robert that he must return to school; still suffering from the loss of their son Willie who died from typhus several years prior, she desperately wants to keep her first – born son alive if at all possible.  But as the votes to pass the Amendment are being secured, it appears as if the war might end before the Amendment can have the chance to come to a vote – and if that happens, the likelihood of its passage greatly diminishes.  Will President Lincoln be able to get The House to vote on the Amendment before the war concludes so his legacy will be the abolition of slavery? 


Daniel Day – Lewis’s performance of Abraham Lincoln is reason alone to see this movie.  Day – Lewis never ceases to amaze at his range and ability to make each character he portrays utterly unique and totally believable.  Despite this, however, I did have some reservations with the film, which may be considered by some as minor quibbling since the overwhelming majority of the students in the class seemed to enjoy “Lincoln” quite a good deal. 

At two and a half hours, “Lincoln” can tend to feel every minute of its length.  The periodically excessively wordy dialog of Tony Kushner’s screenplay leaves a number of scenes at times seeming as though they belong in a stage play instead of a motion picture.  Other problems with the script include its opening scene (the graphic depiction of a Civil War battle which includes hand – to – hand combat that appears somewhat derivative of the opening of Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan”) and the cheesy quality of a subsequent scene that occurs shortly thereafter where Lincoln meets with a handful of enlisted men who proceed to quote his Gettysburg Address speech verbatim. 

Prior to the screening, our instructor informed us that while “Lincoln” is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team Of Rivals”, the movie only adapts a small portion of that sweeping work, rather than covering the whole thing as the motion picture is not a biography of Abraham Lincoln’s life, just a depiction of a segment of it which was particularly historic.  Another point he made was that this film is not what some would refer to as a hagiography – a biography of an individual that shows its subject in only the best possible light.  Instead, “Lincoln” reveals sides of the man which display a deeply flawed character and in no way makes any attempt to canonize him. 



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