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'Lincoln' is dramatic and powerful
December 17, 2012 - Mike Donahey
Add “Lincloln” to Steven Speilberg’s list of masterpieces, joining “Schindler’s List,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “Munich.” The acting, cinematography, directing and screenplay are superb, as evidenced by the number of Golden Globe awards (a precursor to the Oscars) earned.
Most of the film’s memorable scenes take place in offices and the House of Representatives — demonstrating how talented the ensemble of people in front of, and behind the camera are.
But credit must also be given to Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of “A Team of Rivals — the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.” Spielberg based the movie on the book and together, they make a winning combination.
We see Lincoln not only as a brilliant political strategist but also attempting to balance presidential and family duties. Both are formidable.
On the political front, Lincoln wants an amendment to the Constitution banning slavery passed against tough opposition in the House of Representatives. Seasoned political veterans tell him it can’t be done, but Lincoln presses on. His wife Mary, well-played by Sally Field, is besieged by headaches and despondent over the loss of a son. The life of a First Lady is not for her. Other son Robert, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, wants to join the armed services against his parent’s wishes.
But the film’s central moral message is about the amendment's passage. Lincoln and his team are not saints — they eagerly trade jobs and other perks for votes.
One compelling scene shows Lincoln listening to aides who tell him they are still a few votes short and don’t think they can convince the remaining holdouts. Lincoln quietly takes in the crescendo of nay-saying before before rising and slamming his hand on the table, voice rising, and ordering: "Go out and get the votes!” The angry, frustrated Lincoln is in stark contrast to the humble, story-telling, and wise character seen throughout most of the film.
Daniel Day-Lewis, a two-time Oscar winner, plays Lincoln. He may get a third Oscar for this role. Tommy Lee Jones, as strict abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward, and James Spader as an aggressive vote-getter round out the exemplary cast.