Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lincoln: The Movie

As mentioned in my last post, we went to see Lincoln this past weekend.  It blew me away.  I never thought that a movie about political maneuvering would be so engrossing, but it was.  The acting on all counts was superb.  Our local reviewer thought the script was a bit heavy-handed, but I certainly didn't.  Conflicting goals, weighty decisions, and a serious situation don't lend themselves to levity.

The focus of the movie is on a few weeks in early 1865.  Lincoln was just re-elected as President.  He wants to use his new political capital to push the 13th Amendment through the House of Representatives (it had already been approved by the Senate).  The amendment had the general support of most Republicans, who were the liberals of the time, and was staunchly opposed by the Democrats, who were the conservative party.  There were not enough votes safely in hand for the amendment to be approved.  At the same time, Lincoln was trying to end the war with the southern states.  These two goals were in conflict.  If the amendment was approved, Southern states would see it as an assault on their economy and would fight longer/harder.  If the war was ended before the amendment passed, then there would be little or no interest in passing the amendment.  So Lincoln's dilemma was: end the war, or pass the amendment?

Lincoln chose to pass the amendment first.  Apparently, although this was not specifically stated, he believed that the war would end within months anyway, so he had a very small window of opportunity to end slavery in the United States forever.  So he deliberately held off on peace talks with representatives of the southern states while he cajoled, pressured, bought off, and intimidated Republican and Democrat representatives into voting for the amendment.

All of this is history.  What is remarkable about the movie is how well it portrays how messy politics can be while pursuing high goals.  Daniel Day-Lewis is fabulous as Lincoln.  He looks like him, talks the way we've been told Lincoln talked, and acts the way we've been told Lincoln acted.  He is magnificent.  Sally Field is perfect as his wife Mary and gives a stunning performance.  Tommy Lee Jones did a great job as Thaddeus Stevens, and James Spader excelled as one of the President's arm-twisters.  There were no slackers in this movie.  Everybody brought their "A" game.  When you're in a Steven Spielberg movie about the greatest President ever, that's just what you do.

So after the fluff of Skyfall, it was good to see a really strong, deep, meaningful movie.  Kudos to all for creating such a landmark film.

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