Saturday, August 17, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Lincoln (2012)

Tonight I finally caught up with LINCOLN, and I enjoyed it quite well.

Generally, the number of "newer" movies I watch each year can be counted on one or two hands, as there simply aren't that many recent releases which appeal to me. I was glad I invested the time in LINCOLN's 150 minutes, as I found it very worthwhile, and Daniel Day-Lewis's Oscar-winning performance was every bit as remarkable as advertised. Anyone who loves the movies will want to experience Day-Lewis bringing our 16th President to life.

Although Lincoln is front and center throughout the film, the title is perhaps a bit misleading, as it suggests a biography of Abraham Lincoln. Rather, LINCOLN tells a story which takes place in a matter of just a few weeks, during the early months of 1865. I found myself thinking of the film as being somewhat akin to a Civil War version of THE WEST WING, as the focus was almost entirely on the political wheeling and dealing to pass the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, against the background of negotiations to end the war.

While I can't attest to the accuracy of each detail of the film, taken on its own terms it works extremely well as a piece of entertainment. That said, the film truly seems to be history coming to life. Day-Lewis simultaneously seems to be the historic Lincoln of the portraits we all know and a real flesh and blood man: sly, remarkably intelligent, and with a nice sense of humor despite having endured personal tragedy, a challenging marriage, and the stresses of running a nation at war.

Day-Lewis's THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1992) is one of my favorite films of the last quarter-century, and it's almost impossible to believe that the fragile-looking actor who portrays Lincoln here is the same man who played the strong, athletic frontiersman Hawkeye in MOHICANS. It goes far beyond the fact that a couple of decades have passed and the actor is older; Day-Lewis somehow disappears into his roles and completely different people result on the screen. He manages to do this without being showy and obviously "acting"; he simply becomes the characters, which no doubt accounts for his record-setting three Oscars.

In the supporting cast I particularly enjoyed David Straithairn as the loyal yet often exasperated Secretary of State Webb. The cast includes Supporting Oscar nominees Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones as Mary Todd Lincoln and Representative Thaddeus Stevens, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Chase Edmunds portraying the Lincolns' sons. Lee Pace plays Rep. Fernando Wood, one of those leading the fight against the amendment.

It was especially interesting for me to see Hal Holbrook and Byron Jennings playing Preston and Montgomery Blair, as I'm descended from the Blair family through my paternal grandmother.

LINCOLN was directed by Steven Spielberg from a screenplay by Tony Kushner. It was filmed by Janusz Kaminski. John Williams (of course) wrote the score, which was recorded by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Parental advisory: LINCOLN is rated PG-13 for some scenes depicting soldiers' bodies -- I readily admit I averted my eyes -- and for some strong language. I found the rating appropriate and believe the value of the story outweighs the negatives for teenaged viewers.

This would make a nice -- if long! -- double bill with John Ford's classic YOUNG MR. LINCOLN (1939), starring Henry Fonda as Lincoln in his early adult years. The films bookend each other nicely, with one featuring Lincoln at the start of his career and the other depicting him at the very end.

LINCOLN is available on DVD and Blu-ray. The DVD can be rented from Netflix.


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