January 28, 2013
I may not have been the last person to see "Lincoln," but it feels like it. I finally had a chance to see why Spielberg's film reeled in a dozen Academy Award nominations to lead the field.
Momentous events in world history all too often turn to dust on the pages of history books, relegated to a few scant pages that tell us the facts, but fail to reveal the flavor of the events.
"Lincoln" tells the story of the waning days of the Civic War, as the 16th president schemes, finagles and strategizes how to get the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery through a divided House of Representatives by hook or by crook, fearing the Emancipation Proclamation -- issued under the president's self-proclaimed war powers -- would be invalidated under the impending peace.
As is his acting custom, Daniel Day-Lewis plays a stylized Lincoln, from his awkward, clumping gait to his pickle-barrel storytelling style who, through most of the film is the eye of the political storm, waiting for his political cohorts to come around to his way of thinking. And when they fail to do so with scant hours remaining to gather enough votes for the amendment, he lays down the law with a force more made more powerful to be patience and quiet that precedes it.
Sally Fields plays an overwrought Mary Todd Lincoln, politically astute and more a partner than she is usually portrayed, but still distraught from her son Willy's death.
Spielberg couldn't have picked anyone better to play Thaddeus Stevens than Tommy Lee Jones, who holds his firebrand belief in individuality in abeyance to help turn the tide of the vote in favor of equal rights under the law.
David Strathairn also comes up to snuff, an excellent foil to Day-Lewis' Lincoln as Secretary of State William Seward.
Spielberg paints a picture of a younger country, where a president could play with his young son Tad on the White House floor at one turn, then ride out onto a battlefield still strewn with corpses at another.
"Lincoln" portrays one pivotal episode in one of the most defining presidencies of our nation -- one whose effects continue to be felt today. Lincoln's presidency and the progressive Republicans remaining in Congress after the succession made decisions that helped forge the nation into what it is today, including the legislation that led to the transcontinental railroad and land grant colleges like Oregon State.
But the end of slavery is his defining legacy. Lincoln deserves to have his accomplishments do more than languish on a dusty library shelf.
Spielberg has brought that accomplishment to life.