Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Tony Kushner
Cast: Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, David Straithairn, Hal Holbrook, Tim Blake Nelson, Jared Harris and John Hawkes
Drawing inspiration from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of Lincoln, Team of Rivals, the movie significantly focuses on Lincoln’s relationship with his cabinet and Congress. Lincoln’s determination to pass the Thirteenth Amendment when there was still the prospect of a negotiated peace with the South drives his Secretary of State William Seward mad. But the most significant supporting political character is Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens, who pushes the Thirteenth Amendment through the House of Representatives. Jones perfectly captures the personality of the staunch Radical Republican, so assured of the righteousness of his convictions that he takes down his opponents on the debate floor with confidence and zeal
Spielberg is more interested in offering up a litany of the arcane–explicating a myriad of one member after the other from the House of Representatives–all extremely minor figures, now lost to history. Spielberg and Kushner spend so much time on the vote in the House of Representatives, as if this is the defining moment of Lincoln’s presidency. Perhaps from a modern perspective, yes! But I found it hard to believe that the bells were chiming and there were was a giant parade in pro-rebel Washington, D.C., on the day the 13th Amendment was passed. The real cheering was on April 9, 1865, when the South surrendered. The end of the war was of course the main concern of the people of the time, not necessarily the abolition of slavery.
Watching Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’, one can hardly realize that there was indeed a dark side to our 16th President. The suspension of Habeas Corpus and Lincoln’s prosecution of political enemies without due process of law, is an aspect of the Lincoln presidency hardly addressed in Spielberg’s flattering hagiography. Lincoln’s view of African-Americans was decidedly less progressive than Spielberg lets on here. Even shortly before the end of the Civil War, Lincoln was still entertaining schemes of colonization for blacks in South America and Africa.
However, despite superb technical credits and an inspired cast that boasts Oscar-worthy performances, “Lincoln” plods on with words, words, words, and little action beyond afternoon sunlight filtering through lace curtains. While the film recovers afterward, an opening scene that features soldiers reciting the Gettysburg Address to Lincoln is corny and unconvincing, and a number of scenes have “important” rubber-stamped all over them. Perhaps die-hard Civil War buffs will relish the verbal sparring, but a lame attempt to create suspense during voting on the 13th amendment fails, largely because the outcome was revealed in elementary school American History texts.
RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW!