After seeing the movie Lincoln, I feel I just time traveled to the year 1865 and watched the passage of historic legislation abolishing slavery. Lincoln is authentic in every way from the sound of the ticking of the pocket watch that actually belonged to Lincoln to the chill of the dimly lit room Lincoln claimed as his office.
Lincoln is produced and directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln and Sally Field as his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. The movie also includes a cast of many other remarkable and accomplished actors and actresses.
The movie is based on the book by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln and features the last four months of his life and presidency. More specifically, it focuses on the passage of the 13th Amendment which followed the Emancipation Proclamation and permanently banished slavery for all states.
Daniel Day-Lewis so closely captures Lincoln’s essence that those connected with the production of the movie claim a chill ran down their spines as it seemed Lincoln was actually among them. We see Lincoln’s exhaustion and war weariness in Day-Lewis’s shawl- draped stooped shoulders and the clomping of his boots in his awkward gait. Day-Lewis spent a year researching Lincoln and visiting the many places associated with him before filming began. He inquired about his voice and learned Lincoln had a high pitched voice and, although we don’t have any recordings of his voice, what we hear in the movie seems to be very compatible with the character.
When we think of Lincoln we usually picture a god-like figure sitting on a marble throne as in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Here we see Lincoln as a real human being able to feel happiness, love, and laughter as well as pain, passion and grief. He was the leader of our country during its most trying period and at the same time a husband and father trying to keep his family safe and happy.
We see that Lincoln wasn’t above a little arm twisting and hand holding in order to get his way. He even turned to a few lobbyists to insure passage of his legislation. James Spader (better known as Denny Crane’s cohort) adds some comic relief as William N. Bilbo (even his name sounds comical), head lobbyist. Their behind-the-scenes antics provide a glimpse into the lobbyist’s world and lets us know that this profession also is not new. (I don’t know for sure but it is probably the second oldest profession.)
Tommy Lee Jones, usually known for playing gritty, rough and tumble character,s is excellent as Radical Republican Congressional leader, Thaddeus Stevens. Stevens was a fervent abolitionist and feared Lincoln would abandon the emancipation. He is a force to be feared and reckoned with.
Another excellent performance is turned in by David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward, Lincoln’s closest friend and confidant.
We can’t forget Sally Field as Mrs. Lincoln or madam president as she preferred to be called. She is sweet, forceful and a bit insane all at once.
Other actors you will recognize are:
- Hal Holbrook (who won an Emmy for portraying Lincoln in a 1976 mini-series) as Francis Preston Blair, an influential Republican politician, who tried to arrange a peace agreement between the Union and the Confederacy.
- Joseph Gordon-Levitt as oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, who has dropped out of Harvard Law School to serve as a personal attendant to Gen. Grant in the Union Army.
- Gloria Reuben, (formerly of ER) as Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave, dressmaker, and confidant to Mary Todd Lincoln.
- S. Epatha Merkerson (long-time actress on Law and Order) as Thaddeus Stevens’s housekeeper and “friend”.
Lincoln could easily have been a boring documentary about passage of legislation that would shape the future of our country; but in the skillful hands of Spielberg we see history in a fresh way. I particularly like the way he introduced us to the Gettysburg Address and portrayed the assassination scene. Spielberg gives the viewer credit for some intelligence and shows these in a new way. Why rehash something we have known since the third grade?
Lincoln is a movie I could see again and I don’t say that about many movies. Every student of American History and school child above the age of 10 should see this movie. Lincoln will be around for a long time and one that future historical dramas will be measured against. Expect to see many awards for this movie in the upcoming awards season including best movie, best director, best actor and supporting actors. It just may sweep up all the goodies.
I give Lincoln an A+.