“Lincoln” Movie Review

     The best way to determine whether or not you would be entertained by a film like Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is to gauge your overall interest in history as it relates to the 16th President and the intricacies of passing an amendment to the Constitution during the Civil War era.  “Lincoln” plays more like a lesson than a story, almost as if you are in the room either being lectured or sitting in on the debates.  Tony Kushner’s screenplay focuses solely on the last couple months of Lincoln’s life and his struggle to find enough votes in Congress to end slavery.  Absent is the expected Spielberg visual style, which would normally include epic battle sequences, like “Saving Private Ryan”, and instead his focus is on talking heads not unlike the ones we just endured during the recent election.

     That’s what an everyday movie goer would likely say.  If I were to delve into “Lincoln” from the perspective of appreciating the craft behind it, then my opinion would certainly rise to a level of awe.  Daniel Day Lewis transforms himself into Lincoln in a way I haven’t seen anyone do with any character before.  Lewis embodies the President in both how we expect him to look, but also how we might expect him to act knowing only what we’ve read or have been taught.  I suspect no actor will ever again portray Lincoln at this level and it’s likely people will now base their perception of Lincoln on Lewis’ performance.  It’s that good.  Lewis is a sure fire Oscar contender this year and it will take something truly special to keep him from sweeping the upcoming awards season in the Best Actor category.

     Passing a piece of legislation doesn’t seem to have changed very much in the last 150 years.  The congressmen in “Lincoln” debate in much the same way and with the same passion you might see by simply during on “CSPAN” or “CNN” and watching today’s proceedings.  Even the back room deals are the same as Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward (David Strathairn), hires three guys we would call lobbyists today and sends them out to hunt down Democratic Congressmen who oppose the amendment to end slavery.  Much of the film’s running time is dedicated to these three men’s conversations and unique ways to get them to flip several votes in Lincoln’s favor.  The main proponent of the amendment in Congress, Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), is shown tirelessly debating adversaries within the Democratic party who believed slaves were not equal to them.  The speeches and dialogue from Jones are highlights of the film.

     At home, Lincoln struggles with many in his family, including his wife, Mary Todd (Sally Field), and his son, Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who seem to function as another wave of opinions in reference to the ongoing Civil War, as will as the pending vote on what would become the 13th amendment.  Making matters worse is the fact there is a contingent from the Confederate Army en route to the capital for a negotiation to end the war and the Congress knows it.  This complicates the issue because Lincoln believes ending the war will still mean Southern slaves will be in servitude yet again, thus the need to make slavery illegal before a war resolution.

     There’s no doubt the structure and vision Spielberg provides to “Lincoln” more than adequately explains how this true story unfolded.  Some may liken the overall product to something you might see on “The History Channel”, but this is the type of film many of us crave in that it is thought provoking and expertly acted.  In order to bring more overall intensity, I would’ve liked a few of those aforementioned battle sequences so the audience would feel  how high the stakes here really were.  Everyone knows war is hell, but we are visual people and seeing it packs a larger impact on most.  For me, I was engrossed by the politics and the striking resemblance to today’s landscape.  As much as things have changed, they’ve also stayed the same.  “Lincoln” delivers on a purely academic level as expected, but at its core, there is also a lot of heart and emotion you can’t help but feel.  GRADE: B+