Lincoln Review

by Tim Skirvin (tskirvin AT killfile DOT org)
November 27th, 2012

_Lincoln_ tells the story of the passage of the 13th Amendment through the House of Representatives during the lame-duck Congress following President Lincoln's re-election in 1864. The Civil War is wrapping up, and Lincoln feels that he has to push through the amendment before the war ends, before the national political sentiment changes. And so he fights to consolidate his party, flip voters of the opposition to his side, and otherwise use all of his political capital to accomplish his goal: end slavery in the United States of America.

At its core, _Lincoln_ is a movie about national politics. To be sure, this isn't really *modern* politics we're talking about; this is the politics of the 1860s, where the politicians have beards, wigs, and large hats; communication works by telegraph, travel by horse or riverboat; and of course the bloodiest American war is still raging. But none of this fundamentally changes the core of Washington: politics are hard, politics can be incredibly dirty, and politics *matter*. (It also turns out that politics can make for fascinating viewing.)

But that's not really that all that _Lincoln_ is about - indeed, it's in large part about Lincoln himself. He is shown as a sad man, with a painful and complicated family life and a deep need to accomplish what he thinks is right, even at the cost of doing things that he knows are wrong (or, at least, that he isn't convinced are *right*).

More than that, we see that Lincoln is a storyteller. Lincoln tells stories to illustrate his moral points; he tells stories to inspire those around him; and he tells stories to silence the yelling around him. He laughs at himself, he goes on tangents, and he inspires the more frustrated around him to stomp out. He controls the room with his quietly-told stories, dirty jokes, and inspirational speeches. And I came out of every one of them thinking "I would vote for this man." It was extremely effective, and one of the most fascinating parts of the movie.

Still, what I found most fascinating was the politics itself. The strong-arm politics, whipping for votes, the barely-concealed bribery and corruption, the speeches for the press, the careful selection of words, the powers and limitations of party politics, and the dangers of virtue - these were all presented as clearly as a season of the West Wing. The difference, of course, is that this is at least *related* to what actually happened, and the fight was one that *mattered*. That touches me much more effectively than a simple fire fight.

The casting and acting ware spectacular. Daniel Day-Lewis should win the Best Actor Oscar for this work; I wouldn't be surprised to see Tommy Lee Jones be nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his work as Thaddeus Stevens. It seemed that the entire Congress was made up of first- and second-rung actors, and most of them had a chance to shine. I was perhaps unduly moved by S Epatha Merkerson's role (which I won't spoil).
As for Spielberg's role - well, besides the clear skill at dramatizing the politics (something that I would have been happy with, but most audiences perhaps less so!), his role seemed pleasantly muted, compared to his normal directorial work. This was a good thing; this was neither a war movie nor a rollicking/whimsical tale, and the story needed to be told differently. But it was still clearly Spielberg, and I was happy with his part.

There were flaws, certainly. I would have preferred that the movie ended a bit earlier. I'm not sure that dragging things out until Lincoln was actually shot and killed added anything that couldn't have been more effectively handled with a text box; and, indeed, more context could have been added at that point. I think that the relationship between Lincoln and his family could have either been beefed up a bit, or pulled down; either way, it didn't seem to be quite right. The soundtrack seemed a bit muted. And I'm still a bit disappointed that the movie didn't come out before the elections (even as I understand why it couldn't).

But all in all, this movie was excellent.

Rating: 8 (out of 10)

    - Tim Skirvin ([email protected])
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