Monday, November 12


Lets get this out of the way.  This movie is funny.  Intentionally funny.  Character-based humor, not falling-in-shit gags.  I laughed out loud at least ten times during this film and I’ve laughed less at comedies that I gave good reviews.  Abraham Lincoln liked to tell stories, whether they be parables or anecdotes, and they are funny.  Even the reactions to his stories, sometimes before he even starts telling them, are funny.  There is a warmth to this movie, a story about bloodshed and misery and depression and demons and the nation torn asunder, that is unexpected and wonderful.  Abe Lincoln loved his country and his fellow man, and this is a loving tribute to the man.

But it is pretty dark.  Lincoln has dreams of death.  His young son died.  His wife is super crazy.  His oldest son resents him.  The only battle scene in the movie is right at the beginning, and features a boot pushing a face underneath muddy water.  Slowly.  Robert Todd Lincoln visits a military hospital and sees a pit of limbs.  Abe visits a battlefield and sees men torn apart by cannon balls.  The Civil War is always on the periphery in this film but impossible to forget.

The bulk of the film, written by playwright Tony Kushner who also wrote Spielberg's Munich, concerns the passage of the 13th Amendment in early 1865.  So you won’t see young Lincoln, or any elections, or Stephen Douglas, or any other Lincolnia.  This is a brilliant choice to narrow focus but hone in on the moral backbone of Lincoln.  There is even a scene depicting Lincoln’s awkward interaction with a black maid where he tells her doesn’t really know any blacks.  This just proves that it wasn’t personal to Lincoln.  It was almost more of a philosophical or spiritual problem to him that people were in chains, than a political one.

Which leads to some of the best parts of the movie that don’t feature Daniel Day-Lewis.  Since Lincoln views abolishing slavery as such a moral necessity, he is willing to play dirty politics to get to the greater good.  Tim Blake Nelson, John Hawkes, and James Spader play a trio of backroom negotiators who use everything just shy of out-and-out bribery (which Spader does suggest first) to encourage lame duck congressman to vote for the amendment's passage.  These segments are also great for any rubes in the audience who thought politics used to be purer or somehow more honorable in the ‘good ol days’.

Almost every part in the film is filled by a great actor who gives a great performance.  Tommy Lee Jones probably hasn’t tried this hard in years.  Lukas Haas, S. Epatha Merkerson, Sally Field, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Wayne Duvall, Lee Pace, Walt Goggins, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Strathairn, Stephen Henderson, Jared Harris, Hal Holbrook, David Costabile, Julie White, Bill Raymond, Dakin Matthews, Gloria Reuben, David Oyelowo, Elizabeth Marvel, Gregory Itzin, and Peter McRobbie are among the gigantic cast.

Daniel Day-Lewis delivers an amazing performance.  The first scene is jarring, because they just drop right into it, but you get used to Lincoln being Lincoln pretty quickly, and then you are absorbed for the rest of the movie.  The film has a narrow focus chronologically, but you manage to see Lincoln in many different lights.  He spends time alone with his youngest son, with his oldest son, with admiring troops, with bickering cabinet members, with slippery political operatives, with respectful generals, and venomous adversaries.  This is not a film where every character is in love with and in awe of the main character; you'll have to turn to the audience for that.

~ John Williams might have run out of iconic themes.  I enjoyed the music during the film but didn't find myself remembering it afterwards. 

~ The film is gorgeous, thanks to DP Janusz Kaminski, and the contrast between indoor and outdoor scenes is striking.

~ The film has an almost perfect ending... then it goes on for five more minutes.  Oh well.

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