Saturday, November 17, 2012


By Jon Gallagher

Lincoln (DreamWorks Studios, Touchstone Pictures, 2012) – Director: Steven Spielberg. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, and David Strathairn.

Let’s get this out of the way first thing: The producers of this movie better bring a really big truck to the Oscars, because Lincoln is going to take home a boatload of little statues.

Having said that, Steven Spielberg has worked his magic again, this time with his take on our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln in his new epic Lincoln. For those who are history buffs, you’ll absolutely love this movie and will come away with a little different view of Illinois’ favorite son. 

Those who enjoy period pieces and like good acting will appreciate the story and the efforts of the actors as well.

For those who don’t like history, you’ll think this two-and-a-half-hour movie lasts about twice as long as the Civil War did. You won’t even want to rent this one once it makes its way to DVD.

The movie begins in January 1865 and covers the time between then and (SPOILER ALERT) Lincoln’s assassination (Lincoln dies at the end). It is arguably the most important four month period in the history of the United States.

Spielberg puts a new spin on Lincoln that I don’t believe has ever been used before. We meet a man who is obsessed with passing the 13th Amendment and will do anything, including bribing Congressmen and promising patronage jobs to anyone who will give him their vote. Lincoln has the chance to negotiate peace with the Confederacy, but chooses instead to concentrate his efforts on the passage of the amendment instead, knowing that if the war ends, there will be no need for the amendment, and slavery will continue to be legal.

Especially with what has happened in Illinois politics with Rod Blagojevich being kicked out of the Governor’s mansion (well, technically he didn’t live there anyway) and sent to prison for trying to sell Barack Obama’s seat to former Gov. George Ryan spending his retirement in an orange jumpsuit for accepting bribes, Illinoisans may not be shocked at Abe’s wheeling and dealing. We know he did it; he just didn’t get caught.

Others who have had a pristine image of the Great Emancipator may be taken a little aback by this new information. And there is where Spielberg makes the most out of the conflict presented in this movie.

Lincoln’s choice is to allow the South to surrender, end the war (thus ending the bloodshed) and losing the chance to abolish slavery with a constitutional amendment OR stall the peace talks, allow the fighting to continue, and fight for the votes he needs from Congress to put the 13th Amendment on the books. If he accepts the Confederacy’s offers, then there’s no way the Amendment will pass because the Southern states will block it. He has to have it passed while the war wages on if it has any hope of all of ever being passed.

It’s quite a conundrum for old Honest Abe. There isn’t a soul who can blame him for the results, but he may be suspect for the route he took to get there. Movie-goers will have much to talk about as they exit the theater, that’s for sure.

Daniel Day-Lewis turns in a marvelous performance as Lincoln. We see several sides of the President, from the backwoods story teller to the loving father, to the at times tyrannical leader.  He uses his storytelling to illustrate points throughout the movie, both with family and with other politicians.

Sally Field is his much-maligned wife Mary Todd Lincoln, who is usually played as a psychotic lunatic. Field handles the role as a woman on the edge having lost a son while in the White House and being first lady while a war ravishes her own husband. I look for her to walk on stage to accept one of those golden statues.

Tommy Lee Jones is Thaddeus Stevens, a powerful Republican Congressman who is helping Lincoln secure the votes he needs to pass the Amendment. I’m not sure of the reason, but Jones sports what has to be the worst wig in the history of filmmaking or for that matter, mankind. I may have missed the reason for the wig as he does make a reference to it later in the movie.

Secretary of State William Seward is played by David Strathairn, who bears an uncanny likeness to him. I thought he was better than Jones, but will probably be overlooked when it comes time to nominate actors for awards.

It is Day-Lewis under the direction of Spielberg who sets the movie apart. He is able to go from charming father to demanding politician in the blink of an eye, and make it believable.

While most movies of this sort would be tempted to include the assassination at Ford’s Theater, this one does not. We learn of Lincoln’s death another way and John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators are not mentioned (a little surprising as Seward was attacked on the same evening).

For those of us in Central Illinois, where Lincoln sites abound, it’s fun to hear the President tell a story in the movie of a Metamora woman he defended while a lawyer, on charges that she killed her husband. It was the only reference in the movie itself that I caught of anything to do with our area.

In the credits, an old professor of mine, Douglas Wilson is thanked and the Knox College Lincoln Studies Center is also mentioned. It was nice to see my alma mater mentioned in a Spielberg film.

I’ll rate this one a solid A, given my penchant for history, but as I stated at the beginning, I don’t think it’s good enough to overcome someone’s dislike of all things historical. I also don’t think you’re going to find a lot of people under the age of 21 who will enjoy the movie. 

Despite my high rating, I don’t think this is one I’ll own on DVD; it’s one of those movies that you see and enjoy once, maybe twice, but that’s enough.

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