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Lincoln (A Movie Review)


LINCOLN (2012)

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Jared Harris, Lee Pace, Bruce McGill, Walton Goggins, Michael Stuhlbarg, Julie White, Adam Driver, Hal Holbrook, Tim Blake Nelson, Gulliver McGrath, Elizabeth Marvel, Bill Camp, Joseph Cross, Gregory Itzin, S. Epatha Merkerson, Gloria Reuben, Dakin Matthews, Stephen Spinella, Jeremy Strong, Christopher Boyer, Wayne Duvall, David Oyelowo, Lukas Haas and Dane DeHaan.

Screenplay by Tony Kushner.

Directed by Steven Spielberg.

Distributed by Touchstone Pictures.  150 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

Steven Spielberg and Tony Kutcher’s bio-pic on the 16th president does not take the most obvious route to telling the life story of arguably our greatest President.

The filmmakers skip right over much of best-known stories in the well-covered President’s life – and Lincoln’s life has always been catnip for Hollywood, everything from Young Abraham Lincoln to this year’s oddball Abraham Lincoln – Vampire Hunter.

Therefore, you don’t see the chopping wood as a boy, you don’t see the debates, you don’t see the Gettysburg Address – though it is recited to the President by four soldiers in one slightly unlikely scene.

Instead, Lincoln is a much more specialized, more intimate look at the man.  It is all about the final few months of Lincoln’s life, in which he negotiates the congressional passage of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, in the waning days of the Civil War.

If you ever wondered what C-SPAN would have looked like if you had cable in the 1860s, this is pretty much it.

It’s pretty interesting to watch from a modern perspective, particularly because it appears that in the nearly 150 years since these occurrences, the two parties have completely switched identities and belief systems – the Republicans were fighting selflessly for the civil rights of slaves while the Democrats fought and tried to obstruct the passage of the amendment.

In certain ways, this highly political take on the story makes the movie ambrosia for serious policy wonks, but a little slow moving for the rest of us.

Lincoln is a very detailed visual history textbook – and the movie is based on a small part of a brilliant scholarly text about the President, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s well-respected tome Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln – a favorite book of current President Obama.

It’s greatest selling point, though, is the stunning acting on display here.  Daniel Day-Lewis disappears into the character of Abe, bringing the legend to surprising life, in some ways faithful to our expectations and in some ways completely subverting them.

For his performance alone, Lincoln is an important, vital film.  Luckily there are even more reasons to respect it.  The deliberate pace assures that this is not the kind of movie that one is going to become passionate about, but as a filmed history lesson, it is pretty superlative.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2013 All rights reserved. Posted: February 24, 2013.

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