Lincoln, a Review

Sunday, November 18, AD 2012

Well, on Saturday I went with my family to see Lincoln. Considering that the screenplay was written by Tony Kushner and the film directed by Steven Spielberg, I wasn’t expecting much. I wouldn’t have been totally surprised to see something along the lines of “Gay Illinois Lincoln and the Confederacy of Doom!’.  Instead I was pleasantly surprised by the film. It is a great film and perhaps a minor masterpiece. It is definitely one of the finest screen representations I have ever seen of Lincoln, and it is a worthy tribute to the Great Emancipator. Read below for the rest of my review, and the usual caveat regarding spoilers is in full force.

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15 Responses to Lincoln, a Review

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  • Why wasn’t the Vice President in the story? Wasn’t he involved in the process?

  • I don’t think either Hannibal Hamlin or Andrew Johnson, who was not yet sworn in as Veep, had much to do with the passage of the 13th Amendment in Congress.

  • Good point, Beth. No doubt Biden feels strongly about his contribution and will soon make note of this embarrassing shortcoming. Only question is whether he can beat Al Gore to the punch.

  • I fully agree. It’s a superb film. I lost track of time and was disappointed when it started to wrap up. May be the best acting I’ve ever seen at a movie. Daniel Day-Lewis = Abraham Lincoln. So many good authentic performances…

  • I enjoyed the film just as much.

    One minor detail, when Lincoln is chastising Seward towards the end of the film in a dark room or when he is talking with Alex on the riverboat (can’t remember which one), he refers to the Constitution as holding “unforeseen rights that we can’t imagine today”. Or something along those lines.

    If they could have not take a partisan shot (and I think Lincoln didn’t say that, sure that Donald will correct me if he did), the film would be ‘complete’ for me as one worthy of adding to my movie collection.

  • As memory serves Tito Lincoln was indicating in the film to Stephens that ending the right to slavery might open up rights unforeseen today. That was a truism as far as it went. We only have a fairly vague idea of what was said at the conference as no stenographic record was made and the participants differed in their accounts.

  • Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the finest actors around. I enjoyed the movie There Will Be Blood and especially in Gangs of New York.

    James Spader, it’s nice to seem him make a minor comeback in film, him, Johnny Depp, and Robert Downey Jr. have been my favorite actors since the 80s. It’s good to see them age very well in their acting careers.

  • Very excited to see this film now — thank you Don for ‘the historian’s review’. I couldn’t think of any other actor other than Daniel Day-Lewis who who would be capable of this kind of challenge. Reportedly he spent a year, and read over 100 books on Lincoln, in preparation for the role.

  • He was at the top of his game Chris and obviously looked upon this as the role of his lifetime.

  • Very happy to see this review as I had many of the same reservations as Don. Looking forward to getting to watch the movie sometime after it comes out on DVD. (What, you think me and the Mrs. actually get to go to movies anymore?)

  • Paul, when my wife and I had infants and toddlers I can count on one hand the number of movies we saw in a theater during those years!

  • I’m weighing in a little late here because DH, DD and I just went to see “Lincoln” this afternoon. In a nutshell: liked most (but not all) of the acting, but was kind of disappointed in the movie itself. For one thing, I thought the opening scene with Lincoln and the soldiers in the train station was WAY too contrived. There were also a few too many obvious efforts to generate extra drama and remind everyone that this is a Spielbergian Epic With A Capital E where I don’t think it was necessary (e.g., long, dramatic pauses during the 13th Amendment vote). And while the movie bills itself as based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals,” the events depicted in the movie make up just a small fraction of the book — probably because it would have taken an epic-length TV miniseries to do justice to the entire book!

    That said, I thought Daniel Day-Lewis made an excellent Lincoln and was especially good at portraying the fact that Lincoln was a skilled political player. I also like the way it showed the “horse trading” and compromising that is often a necessary (though sometimes distasteful) part of accomplishing lofty goals such as abolishing slavery. The scene in which Lincoln tells Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) that a compass can point the way to true north but doesn’t necessarily help you navigate through all the swamps and other obstacles you will run into on the way, is one I think we ought to remember when we debate issues like abortion, gay marriage, immigration, etc.

    Sally Field seemed a bit old to be playing Mary Todd Lincoln — Field is past 60 while Mrs. Lincoln was only in her 40s when she was First Lady. But she did a good job of going beyond the typical caricature of Mrs. Lincoln as a crazy harridan who made her husband’s life a living hell. She was at her best in the scenes where she expresses her entirely understandable terror of losing yet another son if Robert Lincoln were allowed to pursue his desire to enlist in the military.

    Finally, a supporting role of particular interest to us was that of Hal Holbrook as Francis Preston Blair Sr. We recently saw Holbrook’s live “Mark Twain Tonight!” show in Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Mo., and were impressed at the way Holbrook, at 87, still keeps his Twain presentation sharp, witty and relevant. In “Lincoln” Holbrook plays an elder statesman who attempts to broker a peace agreement between North and South, even though it might imperil Lincoln’s efforts to pass the 13th Amendment. His role is brief but worth watching.

    I think Day-Lewis, Field and possibly Jones deserve recognition at Oscar time but I would NOT be prepared to award the movie Best Picture overall.

  • “Finally, a supporting role of particular interest to us was that of Hal Holbrook as Francis Preston Blair Sr. We recently saw Holbrook’s live “Mark Twain Tonight!” show in Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Mo., and were impressed at the way Holbrook, at 87, still keeps his Twain presentation sharp, witty and relevant. In “Lincoln” Holbrook plays an elder statesman who attempts to broker a peace agreement between North and South, even though it might imperil Lincoln’s efforts to pass the 13th Amendment. His role is brief but worth watching. ”

    Holbrook played Lincoln in 1974 miniseries Elaine that I highly recommend and which is out on DVD:

    http://www.amazon.com/Sandburgs-Lincoln-Hal-Holbrook/dp/B004Z2ECX0

  • Thanks for the tip Don!

Review of the Lincoln Trailer

Thursday, October 18, AD 2012

The idea of reviewing movie trailers I find somewhat humorous, but I think that Grace Randolph in the above video does a good job of attempting such a review in regard to the Lincoln movie by Spielberg being released in November.  In an earlier post last week, which may be read here, I took issue with Spielberg’s historical ignorance and/or political bias regarding how, in his view, the Democrat and Republican parties have switched positions.  This will not deter me from attending the film, as I attempt not to allow the politics of those involved with a film to influence my opinion of the film.  Having said that, like Ms. Randolph I have concerns as to whether Daniel Day-Lewis will create the suspension of disbelief to allow us to view him as Lincoln in the film.

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6 Responses to Review of the Lincoln Trailer

Lincoln’s Voice

Tuesday, September 18, AD 2012

A trailer for the Lincoln movie, directed by Stephen Spielberg, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, which is being released on November 9th.  I will go see it and review it.  Heaven knows that I doubt that it could possibly be worse than Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.  Capturing Lincoln on film is difficult.  He was a complex man who lived in complex times, and trying to say much of substance about him in a two hour film is probably a futile undertaking.

Some criticisms of the trailer have arisen, most centering on the objection that Day-Lewis does not sound like Lincoln.  Of course, since Lincoln died 22 years before the first primitive sound recordings we will never hear his voice.  We do have a number of contemporary accounts as to his voice.

Lincoln’s voice was, when he first began speaking, shrill, squeaking, piping, unpleasant; his general look, his form, his pose, the color of his flesh, wrinkled and dry, his sensitiveness, and his momentary diffidence, everything seemed to be against him, but he soon recovered. –William H. Herndon letter, July 19, 1887

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3 Responses to Lincoln’s Voice

  • ” … Disenthrall ourselves … ” – that is a good way to consider media bias, for listeners and, especially for spokesmen.

    He said, “Study the Constitution!

    Let every American, every lover of liberty, every wellwisher to his posterity swear by the blood of the Revolution never to violate in the least particular the laws of the country, and never to tolerate their violation by others.

    As the patriots of ’76 did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and laws let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor.

    Let every man remember that to violate the law is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own and his children’s liberty …

    Let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges,
    Let it be written in primers, in spelling books and in almanacs,
    Let it be preached from the pulpit,
    proclaimed in legislative halls,
    and enforced in courts of justice.

    And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation, and, in particular,
    a reverence for the Constitution.”

  • Spare us O Lord, from what a Spielberg/Doris Kearns-Goodwin view of the War for Southern Independence and the Lincoln presidency would be. I’ll just guess, slavery first, middle, and last as the one and only issue of importance.

    They filmed this here in Richmond, ironically enough.

  • I think Tom that the main problem in the film will be a “dumbing down” of Lincoln. Lincoln could put more thought into fewer words than any other writer I have encountered, and complexity and films today are a poor match. However, I will reserve judgment until I see the film. (Having Sally “You like me! You really like me!” Fields as the First Lady might add a nice touch of accurate hysteria to Mary Todd Lincoln!)