Probably true, but an unlikely choice for a major Hollywood movie depicting the Great Emancipator pulling the country together in the final weeks of the Civil War. A Gregory Peck/Atticus Finch baritone is more expected in a big budget broad stroke historical epic.
That’s not what you get in “Lincoln.” Working with a dynamic, intelligent script by Tony Kushner (“Angels in America”), Steven Spielberg takes an insightful and subtle approach to show Honest Abe using all his considerable cunning to do away with slavery once and for all.
It’s three months before General Robert E. Lee’s surrender. Just reelected President Lincoln (a scarily detailed embodiment by Daniel Day-Lewis) knows the war’s end will approach even faster if the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery is defeated in the House of Representatives. His own Republican Party is divided on this issue, though everyone’s sick of bloodshed.
As he starts secret talks with Confederate negotiators, Lincoln rushes to wrestle up the votes needed for twothirds majority to pass the Amendment. What we have here is a political thriller from the pages of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s bestseller, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.” We also have nuanced portrait of a great American President making the system work toward a greater good. (If only our current President could work it as well.)
Assembling a cast of the finest of actors (Hal Holbrook, James Spader, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, John Hawkes, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sally Field), Spielberg creates a masterful depiction of wheels rolling behind a crucial episode in US history.
The Cabinet members and Congressmen posture, bellow and bluster, while ringmaster Lincoln stays center stage, quietly persistent in his manipulation of the players. Sometimes, it hard to tell he’s in the room. Then, his thin, reedy voice begins a folksy parable that oils the deadly serious undertaking with an essential element: humor. It pops the air out of the windbags and makes the point.
Honest Abe is not above a bit of dirty politics. Bribery, patronage and outright lies have their place in his deck of cards, which he plays with dazzling skill.
“Lincoln” sends a message to our elected officials: if the end is great and good, the means is justified.
This is a must-see movie about the glorious mess that is democracy.