At the Movies: Lincoln

A great president deserves a great movie and Steven Spielberg delivers — with no small credit due to Daniel Day-Lewis — with “Lincoln.”

Rather than try to encapsulate our 16th president’s entire career in a typical 3-hour historical biography, director Spielberg focuses on the final months of Abraham Lincoln’s life and one of his greatest challenges.

With the Civil War raging but appearing to wind down, a pressing goal for Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) is passing the 13th Amendment, outlawing slavery. He’s determined to get it done quickly, before the war ends, knowing it would never be passed once the southern states rejoined the union. The Emancipation Proclamation was seen as a war measure and would not have the permanence of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Getting the amendment passed would be no easy task, even without the confederate states in the mix. Further complicating matters, a delegation from the confederacy is on its way to Washington to discuss peace. If lawmakers believe the war is over, they may not be so quick to sign off on the amendment.

As if the president didn’t have enough trouble, he’s also got issues at home. His son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) desperately wants to join the army, much against the wishes of his father and mother Mary Todd (Sally Field).

If watching a movie about passing legislation sounds as interesting as a night watching C-SPAN, think again. Yes, time is spent listening to politicians prattle on the chambers, but it’s highly charged prattle, and when one of the speakers is played by Tommy Lee Jones, it’s highly entertaining prattle. The film also examines the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes a bill a law.

At the center of it all is the man himself, and Day-Lewis once again gives an outstanding performance. The actor portrays the Great Emancipator as a soft-spoken man who loves to tell a story and is deeply devoted to his cause. It’s an Oscar-worthy performance.

The movie also boasts a stellar supporting cast. Jones is terrific as staunch abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens and David Strathairn is solid as William Seward, the Secretary of State.

Based in part on the book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, “Lincoln” boast an authentic look and feel of the Civil War-era, a talented cast and a compelling story. Historical dramas don’t get much better than this.

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