Reviews May Contain Minor Spoilers

If you're reading a review you should expect to hear some spoilers. I try to keep them to a minimum though.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Lincoln 2012

Since, the Academy Awards are coming up, I thought I'd put out my thoughts on a few of them. I'm going to start with one of my favorites.

Lincoln (2012) is an excellent piece of historical film making by writer Tony Kushner and director Steven Spielberg.

The film opens with scenes of Civil War combat. We cut to Lincoln speaking with two black soldiers about the abolishment of slavery. Two white soldiers interrupt by bring up Lincoln's famous Gettysburg address. They start it, but are called away before finishing. One of the black soldiers finishes it before leaving. We then see a blurry Lincoln aboard a ship headed for land in the distance. After waking up, he tells it to his wife. She believes it is about passing the 13th amendment and begs him not to destroy his popularity by trying to pass it.

This film is more about passing the 13th Amendment than an overview of Lincoln's life. Since the end result should be known, by most American viewers at least, the film focuses more on the characters and pressures that occurred while trying to pass it.

Our Hero
President Abraham Lincoln has recently been re-elected and has been through four years of the American Civil War. However, he feels the time is right to push the 13th Amendment through during the lame duck session of congress. Lincoln is portrayed masterfully by Daniel Day-Lewis as a quirky old man who enjoys telling stories. Lewis disappears into the role and brings this historic figure to life.

Political Observers
Mary Todd Lincoln is Abraham's wife. She is considered mad by the people and is very insecure about her relationship with her husband and family. She provides the most antagonism of any character, but remains largely supportive of her husband. What is most surprising is the reasons for her point of view make sense. Impressive for a 'madwoman.' She intersects with all the plotlines of this film and manages to bring something to each of them.

William H. Seward is President Lincoln's Secretary of State. It is his job to pass the 13th amendment. Though he questions the president's decisions, he nonetheless carries out his task with zeal. He appoints three men to do the dirty work for them, which provides much of the comedy in this otherwise weighty film. He is also quick to bring up the possible peace agreement with the Confederacy.

Thaddeus Stevens is the leader of the radical Republicans and is the man who wants to see the bill passed the most. He is also a humorous character, with some fantastic curses and retorts. This humor never overrides the seriousness of his purpose though. His character is treated with an interesting narrative touch, in that we get more of his personal positions than Seward, but see less of him. He is perhaps my favorite character of the film and Tommy Lee Jones is perfect as the principled man who must face his ideals if he hopes for his dream to succeed.

Robert Todd "Bob" Lincoln is Abraham's son who visits from law school. He wants to sign up for the Civil War and argues with both his parents over enlisting. He helps bring the cost of the Civil War to the Lincoln home and creates a great deal of tension in Abraham's marriage. We also get to see the most edge from Abraham's character in scenes with his son. Bob's subplot is perhaps the least important, but makes such great cinema that I'm glad it wasn't cut.

Political Foes
Representatives Fernando Wood and George Pendleton are the chief voice for the opposition to the 13th Amendment. They are pure racists with fiery vitriol for their opponents. They hatch several schemes to shut the whole process down and weed out the 'traitors' in their party.

Civil War Atmosphere
Men fighting like savages, using anything they can to kill one another or piles of uniformed corpses. There are relatively few shots of the Civil War, but all of them are gruesome and cold.  There are also some great shots of everyday life in and around the capital.

In the End
Umm, the amendment passes. Yes, there is way more to it than that.

Lincoln is a film with many threads that treats this famous event with dignity and reverence. This film does not treat its audience like they're idiots, so it might be good to at least know something about the American Civil War before watching. I'd imagine it doesn't play well to foreign audiences, but I love history from any nation, so I could be wrong. If you enjoy historical character pieces or political dramas then this is a movie you cannot miss. I watched it twice in under two days and still would watch it again anytime.

I review Spielberg's earlier films in:


  1. I guess for foreign releases, Spielberg added a prologue explaining the basics of the American Civil War and where this takes place in it haha

  2. Now, I kind of wish I'd seen it in Korea.