Saturday, November 30, 2013

Movie Review: Lincoln (2012)

Lincoln (2012) directed by Stephen Spielberg

Despite the title, this movie is not a bio-pic about American president Abraham Lincoln. Rather, it tells the story of his fight in late 1864 and early 1865 to pass the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that abolished slavery in the United States. The story is dramatically told with the typical Spielberg visual flair.

Even though the film is not a bio-pic, it gives a fully-rounded character portrait of Lincoln. We see him as a father comforting his young son and trying to keep his older son out of combat. We see the turbulent relationship with his wife Mary Todd Lincoln (ably played by Sally Field). He deals with congressmen, soldiers (high and low ranked), government workers, and everyday people. Lincoln often uses his penchant for storytelling to make his points. He's decisive and forceful when he needs to be. He is politically adept, which often means skirting on the edges of (if not crossing over) what's moral to achieve his ends. Viewers see his lawyerly mind working all the different facets of legal issues, especially when he discusses (though really it is a monologue) the legality and the impact of the Emancipation Proclamation. Daniel Day-Lewis gives a great performance, capturing the voice and look and world-weariness and optimism of Lincoln. So perhaps the title is justified.

The political and moral wrangling over the amendment is interesting. Many different factions in the House of Representatives need to be satisfied--hard-lining abolitionists and Southern sympathizers and middle-grounders. Lincoln's staff works with sympathetic congressmen to make sure they don't push so hard they make it impossible for others to join the cause. They hire some men to offer patronage to wavering congressmen to secure their votes. When patronage doesn't work, blackmail is also tried. Meanwhile, a delegation from the Confederate government is invited to negotiate peace (thus placating those hoping that a diplomatic solution has been tried before the amendment is passed) but Lincoln struggles with accepting their potential offer (which would kill momentum for the amendment but end the war) and his desire to pass the amendment (which would end the evil of slavery but kill the peace negotiations). The movie gives plenty of food for thought on the right way to handle such situations and the need for compromise and chicanery in politics.

Check out more commentary on A Good Story Is Hard to Find podcast which is what inspired me to watch.

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