Lincoln

“Lincoln” is mildly mistitled… It is not a Lincoln biopic.

Instead, the film specifically examines the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which permanently abolished slavery. Certainly Lincoln is the primary character, but the movie features an enormous cast and focuses not on the life of the man but on the action in Congress surrounding the passage of the surprisingly controversial amendment.

Regardless, Daniel Day-Lewis gives a biopic performance for the ages, completely bringing our common image of Lincoln to life. And for a movie revolving around legislative action, “Lincoln” manages to be intense, moving, spirited and surprisingly humorous.

The action of Lincoln revolves almost entirely around the highly contested, hard-fought passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude.

With a limited knowledge of history, I suppose my presumption had been that the 13th amendment would have passed with – at the least – overwhelming support, if not complete unanimity. It’s hard from the modern-day viewpoint to imagine people resisting such a fundamental right. Freedom. The abolition of slavery – now – seems like such an obvious, enlightened choice to make that its difficult to imagine how or why it might be opposed. I think the common, simplified perception is that “The North” – all of “The North” - wanted to abolish slavery. Thus, the fact that it wasn’t universally supported becomes fascinating in its own right.

One of the fundamental objections to the amendment, and one that makes a certain amount of sense (hear me out) is that certain representatives opposed abolishing slavery at that moment because doing so might prolong the war. If the Southern States knew for certain that slavery would be outlawed by the time they rejoined the Union, they might continue to fight longer, and at that point in time they were precipitously close to surrendering. With so much blood being spilled, any extension of hostilities was something to be avoided. Lincoln and his political allies knew, however, that if they didn’t pass the amendment prior to the South rejoining the country, it may not pass for years or, perhaps ever. They were having trouble getting the act passed without the Southern States voting against it. The fight for freedom needed to be finished before the fighting actually stopped.

Thus, the passage of the amendment comes equipped with a ticking clock. As the South makes peace overtures, Lincoln tries to stall and keep their attempts at parlay secret. Behind the scenes, he buys votes, calls in favors, and makes promises. His allies on the floor (notably Tommy Lee Jones in an enjoyably cantankerous turn) are forced to tone down their actual beliefs about equality in order to appear moderate to those who were racially opposed to the bill. Because of course, the finality of the war isn’t the only objection to the Amendment. There are outright racist sentiments as well. Representatives who believe and proclaim that “the Negro is inferior” or that slaves aren’t ready for freedom, that it would overwhelm them. “Lincoln” never lets us forget what exactly was at stake.

Spielberg has created a fascinating movie here. It’s a highly entertaining historical drama, peppered with a surprising amount of humor. For the most part, he keeps his heavy-handed tendencies at bay. With a few scattered exceptions, he focuses on letting the story and characters do the work, and lays off of the sweeping music, the heavy symbolism and the maudlin sentimentality. What we’re given is a solid, believable film focusing on an engrossing moment in history, re-enacted by a highly talented troupe of performers.

The cast is sprawling, yet filled with accomplished actors. Hal Holbrook, David Stathairn, Bruce McGill, Jared Harris, and Walton Goggins all show up for cameo sized appearances. James Spader and John Hawkes have more sizeable supporting roles as vote hunters. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stops by for a few pointed scenes as Robert Lincoln, in order to showcase the personal impact of the war. Given large parts and truly standing out with them are Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field. This may be one of Tommy Lee Jones’ most ornery roles (and that’s saying something), he’s great, here. And Sally Fields turns in a fiery role as Mary Todd Lincoln. She’s truly very animated as the President’s wife… alternately giving him grief and counsel as the woman behind the great man.

But the film belongs to Daniel Day-Lewis.

Day-Lewis gives us one of the most mesmerizing biopic performances ever in this film. He takes our commonly imagined Abraham Lincoln, and breathes life into him onscreen. Lincoln walks and talks, as surely as if Spielberg had gotten a time machine, à la “Bill and Ted”. Day-Lewis is as certain for an Academy Award nomination as anything can be at the 2012 Oscars, it’s a near absolute certainty. His Lincoln is a storyteller and humorist, a patient leader, but not afraid to get tough or fight dirty. He’s weary from the burdens he’s faced in office, yet determined to do the difficult things that lay ahead. It’s an absolutely captivating performance, and destined to be mentioned alongside Ben Kingsley’s Mahatma Gandhi and Jamie Foxx’s Ray Charles as one of the most incredible biopic roles of our times.

With surprising historical events, incredible performances by an “embarrassment of riches” cast, and unexpected levels of humor and charm, “Lincoln” is a very entertaining, solidly composed film. It will undoubtedly add to the already formidable legacies of both Daniel Day-Lewis and Steven Spielberg.

A

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60 thoughts on “Lincoln

  1. Good review my man. I liked the movie a lot, mainly because of the performances, but I will say that it can be a bit of a snooze-fest at times. However, that’s all forgiven after you consider that this is Spielberg playing it nice, intimate, and most of all, subtle. Haven’t gotten that from him in awhile and glad to see him back.

    • It is good to see Spielberg tone it down a bit, isnt it? They had that opening shot of the war going on, in slow mo, with everyone dying and yelling, and I thought, “Oh, no, here we go” LOL :D

      But he does tone it way down, so I was appreciative of that.

      I definitely didnt feel the “Snooze Fest” element, at all. I was engrossed. I give extra credit to the fact that they made it so interesting, based off of potentially “Snooze-Fest” material!! :D

  2. Yeah, A Totally Excellent Write-Up, Sir. I Very Much Agree.
    And I MUST MUST MUST See The Film.
    I’m Already Trying To Make Plans To Hit-It-Up Sometime Soon!
    After Reading This, I’m Even MORE Ready! :D
    -B.

    • Cool. Glad I got you pumped up, Brad.

      Although, in fairness, that’s not hard to do ;) You strike me as an excitable guy. LOL

      I know your love of history though, and you’re gonna love this. Seriously, wait’ll you watch Day-Lewis as Lincoln. He’ll blow your mind with how good he is here!

      • I’m Only Internally Excitable, And Can Only Really Express The Excitement With The Written Word. In Person, I’m Much More Reserved And Colder.
        An Introvert To The Max, But With High-Flying Thoughts That Must Be Expressed Somehow.
        That’s Why I Love Thomas Jefferson So Much.
        He Was A Terrible Orator. He Thought With His Mind AND His Quill. Not With His Mouth, Nor His Outward Emotions. :)
        I’m Not Thomas Jefferson, No.
        We Just Have Something In Common.
        We Prefer The Written Word To The Spoken. ;)

  3. OK, you’ve convinced me to go see it. I mean Daniel Day Lewis is always an incentive but you’ve just got me far more excited than I had been for this one :)
    Thanks!

  4. Great review!…like always. Is it just me that kinda freaked out on how much Daniel Day Lewis looks like Lincoln? Movie magic…sometimes it just blows my mind.

    • Wait’ll you see it! LOL. He doesn’t just LOOK like him (although he is kind of the spiiting image, too) he talks like him, he acts like you think he would… seriously, its a crazy, crazy performance. I was super impressed. :D

      • Oscar worthy, uh? Crazy! I can’t wait to watch it tomorrow! OH, I saw Breaking Dawn 2….totally not your style, I know. But it’s not mines either. I was shocked. The last 45 mins, I was on the edge of my seat. Fight scene was AH-mazing. You know me, I love a good fight scene.

      • Pretty much Oscar worthy, yeah. I’m not seeing best picture, per se, but DDL is a lock for a nom at least.

        I’ll keep that in mind when I eventually do my promised Twilight marathon event. Lol. It’s gonna be fun I can’t wait. :D

      • I can’t wait to listen to your podcast after that marathon. I feel like there should be a drinking game while you are watching these movies. :)

  5. This was such a great film!!!
    Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln was obviously amazing… I may have to take away my best actor prediction from Phoenix in The Master and give it to him, because it was really crazy. He WAS Lincoln.
    I also really loved Tommy Lee in this one! He was so awesome with the sarcasm:) And his speech at the end totally reminded me of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, and I love that speech. he manages to take a negative lie and use it against that annoying democrat guy. LOVE IT.
    You’re totally right about the humor in this film. It was surprising but it totally worked and it was really hilarious at times. I loved that story that Lincoln told about Ethan Allen seeing George Washington’s portrait in the water closet over in England:) And that guy from MacGyver was all like Lincoln I don’t even wanna hear it, but he just leaves and Lincoln tells the story anyway. So funny.
    It was also really great in its depiction of democracy I think. It’s so hard to get stuff done, pretty much impossible if you do it all by the book, but that just makes it that much more important when stuff does happen.
    In other news, I got a free SKYFALL poster today, but I still haven’t seen the movie yet!!!! Ahh irony.

    • Right now – and unfortunately, all the Oscar candidates get released in secret to only 5 theatres in the world, mid December, so none of us have a chance to see them – its between DDL and Phoenix for Best Actor, too. The two of them were just operating on an entirely other plane than anyone else I saw this year so far!

      Tommy Lee Jones was fantastic, too, wasn’t he? A perfect supporting role for him. :)

      Oh my God. That Washington joke was hysterical wasn’t it? Lincoln! Telling a George Washington joke! :D How awesome??

      As for the depiction of democracy, I guess the only thing I appreciated about it was seeing that even back THEN Congress was a freaking mess. We think they have their head up their asses now… these guys couldnt even agree on ending slavery!! LOL

      You’ll see Skyfall one of these days… and its worth the wait Hunter, it really is.

  6. I won’t get to see this one until sometime next weekend, but I distinctly remembered your review of the ‘Orse, so I had to stop by and see what you thought of this one. Really glad that you liked it!

    • LOL!! :D

      My ‘Orse Sir! Please tell ‘im I love ‘im! He’s the most magnificent ‘Orse ever! :D

      Yeah, man… this was nowhere NEAR like that. Though they were a couple of eye rolls here and there. for the most part though, it was 95% eyeball rolling free. :D

      I’d put DDL at the top of the list for Best Actor win by the way, right now NTEMP. He’s a lock for a nom at least and I’d say a considerable favorite to take the statue home. He’s that good.

  7. The acting was superb. Looks like DDL wil get another Oscar nom. However, I found this overly talky, I spent more time trying to guess who was the famous actor doing what part, and I was amazed at all the facial hair. Did they have a beard maker or a barber on set? I would have given this a stamp instead of an anvil ring. In fact, I liked Lincoln better when he fought vampires. PS> saw this in NYC.

    • WHOA! “I liked Lincoln better when he fought Vampires” Cmon… COME ON, AL….

      I have no issue with approving of it without the enthusiasm, but this movie and that are just not even comparable… even if you give credit to “Vampire Hunter” as a cheesy fun B Movie (which I didnt, really) :(

  8. Pingback: Lincoln is One of the Year’s Best! A Must See. « nediunedited

  9. One of the year’s best! LOVED it!

    The pacing and structure were perfect. It was such an intimate portrait of an iconic figure and that has never been done before. I walked out feeling like I really got to know Lincoln as a man–not just the President.

    The after movie conversation was the real testament to how much we loved it. When you talk about everything–performances–the look and feel of it–politics (past and present) and how relevant it was–the humor (Yes…surprisingly very, very funny)–and on and on…

    I am thinking Oscars–maybe across the board–wouldn’t surprise me at all.

    Later!

    • Lat-re!

      You’re right. I could see several nominations for this one. I can easily envision one of those commercials that goes like, “Lincoln has been nominated for 9 Academy Awards…” Best Pic, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supprting for TLJ and Sally Field, Best costume, and then… a technical one here or there. :D It can happen. I can see it.

      Glad you’re so enthused over it, I saw your review is up too. I’ll swing by and check it out later :D

  10. I liked this movie a lot but it was a mild letdown anyway. I get that it was difficult to find an angle on Lincoln that would not simply be a repeat of past biopics, but the hamfisted way they tried to shoehorn things into this narrow time period irked me a little at times. The first half of the film has Lincoln doing his story telling bit in every scene. Yes, he did do the stories, but I was almost with Stanton on this, and I had not been with him for four years but only forty minutes. (Although the story he tells in that scene is my favorite, the GW WC story. I’ve been passing that on to my classes since I read Team of Rivals). The opening is a good example of what I mean. I know you saw all that combat stuff and worried that it was going to typical Spielberg territory. I heard four soldiers, parroting the words of the Gettysburg address back to the President, and I thought “This is how they are going to squeeze in the greatest hits”.
    Daniel Day Lewis is exactly right as Lincoln in 95% of the film. There are a couple of scenes that go over the top and scream “look at me”. I always like the quieter, subtler moments in his performance. The way he picks up Tad off the floor in front of the fireplace, that is a real actors moment. The dialogue with the two telegraph operators is another great scene because of the quiet nature of his delivery. I read a lot of history and I liked the political approach of the book that the movie is based on. The story of the work behind the 13th amendment is a worthy one, but not a cinematic one. The movie left me unmoved with only a couple of exceptions, and that is odd for a film from a storyteller like Spielberg.

    For more: http://kirkhamclass.blogspot.com/2012/11/lincoln.html

    • I liked the fact that Spielberg wasn’t trying to “move” people. He went way overboard with that in War ‘Orse and I was super happy we didn’t get a repeat of that here. I didnt really find a lot of it to be hamfisted, but there was defintiely a moment or two here or there that were. That’s one of the reasons why it got no plusses from me…. I dont really think its a GREAT movie per se, just a very very good one. I dont think Lewis had an off moment… the President cant be quiet and subtle all of the time, I’m certain Lincoln had to bellow, too, now and then. I also liked all the stories he told. That was my favorite part of the film. He should go on a one man tour, a la his costar Hal Holbrook, I’d buy a ticket in a second!! :D

  11. I liked your review Fogs. nice job. I really liked the movie as well. It’s funny reading about the modern day perception, because you are right about it. How could slavery be acceptable. But most people tend to forget it was the economic backbone of the South as well and the staunch beliefs of racial superiority wasn’t something that was exclusive to the likes of Hitler and Stalin…it existed here in the US as well…and not just in the South might I add.

    I thought the film did a good job representing that in both the North and the South.

    But, I tend to see the titling of the film differently. I thought it was appropriately titled. Not in that it is a biopic, because I’ll give you that, I wasn’t expecting the movie to take place only over a couple of months, and definitely wasn’t expecting Gettysburg to have already taken place, but through every facet of the film, it always came back to Lincoln and gave a greater insight to the man himself as he dealt with each situation on many different fronts. the sub plots of slavery, the Civil War, his family arguments/problems, and the 13th Amendment all pointed right back to Lincoln and how he fared.

    just my thoughts.

    I did think that the “2nd ending” if you will serves to be somewhat unnecessary, but then again ties in the film’s look at Lincoln himself and not just the amendment. a neat little bow.

  12. I very much enjoyed this film. I agree that the title may be misleading, but when it comes down to it, this film is about Lincoln’s legacy. Day-Lewis was great as always. So much so that I could have sat through many more hours of what many people are calling “a boring film.” Is it wrong that I wish they could make a prequel just so I can see more from him in this character? haha. Great review, and I really loved the film!

    • Cool, glad to hear that Rob.

      Yeah, I cant believe it when I run across people calling it “boring”. And I have… But I totally disagree, I thought it was fascinating. And hell yeah we need a prequel! More DDL as Abe Lincoln! :D

      He’d never do it though. He’s not a “Sequel” kinda guy.

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