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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Movie Thoughts: Lincoln

by J.R. Wagner

So I watched Lincoln with my daughter (she actually picked it!) over the weekend.

EW.com's first look at Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln

If you're going into this movie expecting a Glory or Saving Private Ryan type civil war recreation you will be disappointed.  This is precisely what my daughter was expecting (she's 13 going on 30) and she managed to fall asleep within the first half hour.

Does this mean if you are a teenager you shouldn't watch the film? Absolutely not.  If you go in with the proper expectations, you will not be disappointed.

Lincoln focuses on the passage of the thirteenth amendment.

The thirteenth amendment of the United States Constitution:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Yes, making slavery illegal.

Lincoln passed the Emancipation Proclamation earlier in the war using his presidential powers during wartime to do so but the proclamation was not a law.

"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom. ..."

So why was the Thirteenth Amendment necessary if there was already the Emancipation Proclamation?   The Emancipation Proclamation banned Confederate slaves. The Thirteenth Amendment banned ALL slavery.

So the film focuses on Lincoln's struggle to get a 2/3 majority in the House of Representatives necessary to pass the amendment.  Much like today and this fiscal cliff nonsense that's going on,  the House is essentially evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. And, much like today, there was very little give or take between the sides. The Republicans had already passed the Thirteenth Amendment in the Senate (because it was a Republican controlled senate) and needed the 2/3 vote in the house to make it law.

Okay, that's enough history now back to the film.

Lincoln, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, exceeded all of my expectations.

Day-Lewis as Lincoln
Daniel Day-Lewis

He did a phenomenal job not only in assuming they physical role of Lincoln -his walk, the way he carried himself, his mannerisms, but becoming Lincoln -the way he talked, the way he addressed the crowd, the gentle way he told stories to his cabinet, his political opponents, his family. For the duration of the film he WAS Abraham Lincoln and it was immediately obvious why Lincoln was such a popular president. 

Sally Field
Sally Field, who I generally find annoying also did a spectacular job. God, you could see the pain in her eyes when she spoke of the loss of one of their sons.  When she and Lewis were alone together speaking of the untimely death of their eleven-year-old son, Willie, I was completely engrossed in the scene.  I could feel their pain as parents, I could see it on their faces, in the way they held their bodies and how they interacted with each other. Truly, the collaboration of Sally Field and Daniel Day-Lewis made their scenes together compelling and believable.

Field as Mary Todd Lincoln

Spielberg (director) did an Oscar buzz-worthy job in creating the world in which this film was shot.  Everything looked and felt authentic. The lighting, which was minimal in that time period, was minimal during the indoor and night scenes. Typically known for his love of great musical scores accompanying his films, the score to Lincoln was seldom heard allowing the audience to take in the sounds of the time -the squeaky horse-drawn car wheels as the rolled through muddy ruts along the road.  The creaky floorboards in the White House.

If you appreciate great acting, a compelling story and American history, you will enjoy Lincoln.  If you are expecting a war film or a film focused on Lincoln's assassination, you're better off passing on this one.


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