It has been an interesting year in film for our sixteenth president. Over the summer, he was portrayed as an ax wielding vampire hunter, which was just as entertaining as it was fictitious. Now, Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis have brought Honest Abe to the big screen in a drama at the height of the Civil War to portray him as a great president truly working for the best interests of his entire country.
The film does an excellent job of showing the audience everything that rests on Lincoln’s shoulders. As president, his main agenda is to end the Civil War, but he realizes that passing the thirteenth amendment (which would abolish slavery) would bring a better end to the war and leave the country less divided afterward. However, securing enough votes in the house of representatives is not an easy task, some minds cannot be changed. The longer this debate goes on, so goes the war, with countless lives lost.
At home, Lincoln’s family life is in turmoil as well. His wife, Mary (Sally Field) falls into deep despair often over the death of their younger sons. She seems close to her husband, able to break down and tell him her true feelings, but seems to resent his power and responsibilities. The strong smiling face she puts on in public is a heavy mask to bear. Their older son, Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) wants to join the army, though his parents disapprove fearing for his life while Robert fears for his honor. And their younger son, Tad (Gulliver McGrath) is asking many hard questions about the war, slavery and how slaves are treated. Lincoln cannot fix the past for his wife, he’s trying to save Robert from being another loss to the war and he wants to make the future brighter for Tad.
Daniel Day-Lewis portrays Lincoln beautifully. Physically, we get an aging, tired man who stands slowly, often leans on things and will wrap his shoulders in an old blanket. His power is in his wits, his oddly humorous personality and his ability to connect with his people. From the very first scene of the film, I was engrossed in and looked forward to Lincoln’s small stories to make his points. These come in handy and carry the same tone whether he is talking to a few soldiers, his cabinet or an entire crowd. And that voice Day-Lewis uses for Lincoln, a bit soft spoken, but never weak makes his Lincoln more easy to connect with. His Oscar nomination is well deserved, another win, is nearly in the bag.
As well done as this film is, I got a little bored and didn’t find it very enjoyable. In fact, it feels very preachy and drawn out. Much of the film focuses on changing minds in the house of representatives in order to secure enough votes to pass the thirteenth amendment. Spielberg tries to get us more connected to each of these key politicians, and a few do stick, especially Tommy Lee Jones’ character, Thaddeus Stevens. However, there are just too many, their bickering and voting seems to go on forever and I know enough history that there is not much suspense. Spoiler alert US history dropouts, the amendment will pass.
This is an excellent film that addresses Lincoln as a man, a president and a tactical politician. Though it’s rated PG-13, many kids might be bored by the film, unless they’re really into history. At some points I felt I needed to brush up on history and government knowledge, but the film never really held me back.
“I wish He had chosen an instrument more wieldy than the House of Representatives.”