Friday, November 16, 2012


Review by James Colt Harrison 

Steven Spielberg is showing his patriotic side with his presentation of the new DreamWorks/Touchstone Pictures release, Lincoln. Perfectly timed to spark interest in our American history during the days of Presidential elections and campaigns today, Lincoln is a history lesson with drama, intrigue, excitement, and action. There is no stuffy bookworm feel to the film, and it just may interest young people to leave their explosion movies and see something of substance. However, that is a big hope on our part. 

Spielberg was entranced by the Doris Kearns Goodwin biography, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, but felt it was far too sweeping and large to turn the entire book into a movie. So he had screenwriter Tony Kushner boil it down to present the last two months of Lincoln’s career and life. Lincoln was trying very hard to get the Thirteenth Amendment passed which abolished slavery. Even men in his own cabinet were against him. He had an uphill battle. Kushner was a good choice to write the script as he has always been politically aware. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play Angels in America, about the AIDS epidemic in its early days.  

In the film, the men in the House of Representatives are all squabbling and disagreeing, much like our own today. Kushner said in an interview with Jessica Koslow in LA Weekly, “What I’d like people to get out of the film, those guys yelling and screaming and calling each other names, at the end of the day two-thirds of the majority of them abolished slavery in the United States. So it’s very important to me that while politicians and the political process is not pretty at all, it is a process that can produce extraordinary progress and even radical transformation.” 

The first part of the film is a bit talky and static without any action to perk up the scenes. When the film moves on to more discussion about the Civil War and the battle scenes are shown, the film picks up speed and interest. Lincoln is suffering from great sorrow at the loss of so many young lives in battle. It is a great burden for this sensitive man, and Daniel Day Lewis is superb in his depiction of the kind, but strong President. 

Sally Field makes a rare film appearance as the slightly nervous, slightly unbalanced Mary Todd Lincoln. She’s independent but she stands by the President without compromising her strong opinions. Miss Field has two Oscars® (Places in the Heart, Norma Rae ) and may be in the running for a Supporting Actress nod. 

Another scene-stealer is Tommy Lee Jones as radical Republican Congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens. The entire cast is superb and includes such outstanding actors as Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Lincoln’s son Robert, Jackie Earle Haley as Vice President of Confederate States of America Alexander H. Stevens, David Straithairn as Secretary of State William Seward, John Hawkes as  Colonel Robert Latham, Hal Holbrook as Francis Preston Blair. Others in the cast are James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson, Joseph Cross, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Dakin Matthews. 

Lincoln  is not an easy film to watch during its 150 minute running time, and you may squirm a bit. But the wonderfully-made film is a pleasure to watch for the performances, the exciting and significant historical events, and the direction by Spielberg. It’s one of America’s best films of the year and should figure prominently in Oscar® nominations this season. Go see it and enjoy another Daniel Day Lewis performance.


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