Last Saturday night, my mom, Jon and I all went out to see the new Spielberg movie – Lincoln. I have been looking forward to this film since I first found out it would be released. That was over a year ago. Several months ago, I marked my calendar when I found out when release weekend was going to be. Since I’m ordinarily not much of a ‘see it in the theater’ type, you should be able to tell how excited I was. We got there fairly early, but after we sat down, the theater got pretty full. We waited through all the obligatory previews. The new Oz movie looks pretty neat! Johnny Depp as Tonto in The Lone Ranger? Not so much… And then finally, there it was. On the big screen!
If you want to see the preview, click here.
For those of you who may not be familiar – this movie is based on the book by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals. If you haven’t read it – you should. It is a fantastic book, but not a quick read. But, back to the movie. It is set during the last four months of Lincoln’s life, from January 1865 through his assassination in April 1865. And it focuses primarily on Lincoln’s attempt to keep working toward a peace that would preserve the union, while passing the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery. The movie only covers a small portion of a comprehensive book, so watchers will better understand the movie if they have read the book and understand what comes before.
After Lincoln was elected, he set about constructing a cabinet of the best political minds, men who were skilled at negotiating the complex political environment, and who could get things done. He didn’t just pluck supporters, because he understood that he would need buy-in from the naysayers as well if he was going to be successful at getting his agenda implemented. So he made sure his political opponents were close to him.
While it was a genius strategy, it did mean that he had to work tirelessly to sell his ideas to others, get input, give input and ultimately get others to see his point and agree with him. It also meant he had to be willing to compromise. And undoubtedly as a result of being surrounded by differing views all day long, he found some of his own views and opinions changing over time. The movie does a great job of showing that he wasn’t just taking advice from people who agreed with him, and actually, most of the time, they disagreed. But in the end, after carefully weighing all of the considerations, he needed everybody to be willing to support the agreed upon course.
150 years after the fact, our collective memory had faded, and most people who haven’t studied Lincoln or the Civil War probably have no idea that he frequently toed, and undoubtedly crossed, the line of Presidential authority. He was accused of being a tyrant, a dictator, and of stripping the free speech rights of the young nation’s people. He was willing to do all of these things because he believed it was required to hold a fragile nation together. He didn’t always tell the whole truth. The movie barely touches the surface of this issue, but the nuance is there for the savvy viewer.
The actors are amazing. Daniel Day Lewis captures Lincoln in a way that I believe will become the standard for my generation. He is strong yet fragile, fiercely determined yet loving, tormented by anguish yet he delights in the simplicity of an off-color story. In sum, his performance captures the nuance of an incredibly complex man. The other actors hit their parts as well. Tommy Lee Jones is brilliant as Thaddeus Stevens. And Sally Field truly shows Mary Lincoln’s fragile mental state as well as her uncompromising loyalty to her husband. I will be disappointed if all three of them don’t receive Oscars.
Of course, as with any film, there is some artistic license. I’m sure there will be people who will discount the movie because it doesn’t always stick exactly to history. Some scenes most likely didn’t happen the way they did in the film, but I don’t think it makes it any less powerful.
And just so you know if you are unfamiliar with Team of Rivals – this is not a war movie. There are only a few battlefield scenes, and they are not the primary focus of the film – instead their purpose is to support a point that needs to be made. So if you are expecting something more like Gettysburg, or Glory, you won’t see it. But I do believe that this film will be the closest I will ever come to seeing Lincoln as he was in life.