Being that it’s President’s Day, it seemed an appropriate time to finally post my Lincoln review. (And by this I mean it was President’s Day…before I finished at 12:20am.)
In case you didn’t catch the other posts, I’m on a mission to see and review each film nominated for Best Picture…
After all the buzz and rave reviews Lincoln received, I was looking forward to seeing it. My dad, a big movie lover, was as well. So we did.
I’m not a history buff, but the older I get the more interested in politics and history I become. (Is it me or is it so unfair that we teach this stuff in school when kids don’t care about it and by the time we’re curious adults most of it has been forgotten…?) The film looks at President Lincoln’s struggle to get the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery, passed before the end of the Civil War. The direction and acting were fantastic, but there were two other things that really interested me when viewing this film.
First, it was really cool, I thought, to get a glimpse of the Republicans and Democrats of 1864 and their respective party stances. I’m not going to insult your intelligence (“you” being the maybe five people who will ever read this blog post). I’m a registered independent. But the truth is I can’t vote Republican because I have a soul a lot of the stances of the current party I just can’t jive with. “Who votes on social issues?” I know, I’ve heard it before. Try being gay. OK, the gay card was a bit much. But seriously.
I vote on economic issues too, I just don’t think that everything without a monetary value is worthless. I really believe that for our society to flourish and to be the great people we imagine ourselves to be, there are certain standards we must hold ourselves to, there are certain necessities to which everyone should be entitled (healthcare, for example), and there are certain investments we must make, not because the profit is great, but because they are just and because they will benefit our people as a whole.
Now, don’t go calling me a socialist. I’m a reasonable independent thinker. But that Tea Party shit is Fucking NUTS. Logical Republican Americans know this. Do yourselves a favor, band together and make those lunatics secede to form their own group…They could be the “Mad Hatters” or something, if they want to keep the tea theme.
Anyway, that being said, it was actually very fascinating for me to watch the Republicans as the good guys on screen in this film. I’m not demonizing anyone, but in all honesty in 2013 who would we expect to be holding onto racism? (Hint: not Democrats.) I know it’s a movie and so the truth was stretched to be formatted to fit the screen, but, similar to how I felt about Life of Pi, it was really cool for me to connect with and root for the opposition.
What also drew me in was the reality of the good guy/bad guy complex that is so palpably demonstrated in this film. I mean…none of us are all of one and none of the other, are we? Lincoln’s best intentions were realized by corrupt, illegal, even immoral measures.
The movie covers only the last four months of Lincoln’s life, the end of the Civil War, the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment, and his untimely death. The Emancipation Proclamation, which had been signed in 1863, a year prior to where the film begins, was of questionable legality. In one scene, Lincoln admits to this, pondering, himself, the legitimacy of the Proclamation and the potential legal quandary it could result in.
I decided that the Constitution gives me war powers, but no one knows just exactly what those powers are. Some say they don’t exist. I don’t know. I decided I needed them to exist to uphold my oath to protect the Constitution, which I decided meant that I could take the rebel’s slaves from them as property confiscated in war. That might recommend to suspicion that I agree with the rebs that their slaves are property in the first place. Of course I don’t, never have, I’m glad to see any man free, and if calling a man property, or war contraband, does the trick… Why I caught at the opportunity.
Lincoln, a figure for the people, oversteps his executive power—the power granted him by the people– to ensure that his objective is advanced. A pure intention it may have been, and reflectively we forgive him this transgression. But it makes it awfully difficult, looking at the actions of one of our most beloved historical figures, to discern where the line of right and wrong lie, whether they’re rigidly set by some ultimate guide, or whether, more likely, they’re relative, bending and swaying as necessary, meeting at some eventual plot on the map of existence.
Honest Abe did whatever it took to get his Amendment passed, including cheating, lying, and bribery. His actions would get him thrown in prison in 2013, but, luckily for us, it was 1864 and the man took care of business.
Dad thought the movie was a little dry. He said he would have preferred more action. I found the dialogue, the back-and-fourth verbal jousting, to be quite entertaining. But I was a Legal Studies major in college and spent my days reading and deciphering case law and legal journals and debating absolutely EVERYTHING for years. And now I spend my time in the car listening to talk radio, catching up on the ins and outs of the day’s current events and political happenings. Soooo this film was right up my alley. I think Dad thought there would be more war scenes, which I was quite happy to do without. The presentation of the factual legal and political arguments tied in with the humor of Lincoln’s long-winded stories or of Thaddeus Stevens’ political trash-talking was enough to keep me entertained.
The acting was wonderful. I cannot say truthfully that the “character portrayals” were excellent because, if I’m quite honest, I’ve never seen footage of Abraham Lincoln or Mary Todd Lincoln or Thaddeus Stevens or any of the other characters. And yes, I did list these three as examples because they are the stand-outs for me.
Daniel Day Lewis is getting more praise than maybe Lincoln did himself. His performance was captivating. Lincoln’s quirks, his lengthy, at times exasperating stories, his manner of avoiding difficult subjects when he saw fit, and his soft spoken and distinctive speech and mannerisms all helped to solidify the idea that this historical figure was no ordinary man. And yet, at the same time, the honesty of the scenes of his and Mary Todd Lincoln’s arguments, the visual of a strained relationship between a father and son (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and the clear inner turmoil and uncertainty about his actions and the potential for success, show the true humanity of our treasured monument. Bravo Daniel Day Lewis, and Bravo Steven Spielberg, and Bravo Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Sally Field. As with the multidimensional qualities I mentioned above when discussing Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln was also a woman of many hats, so to speak. She was difficult to like at times. She was very emotional. Screaming, crying, giving her husband absolute hell when she thought it necessary, aiding to her long-standing reputation as a crazy woman. But this fiery disposition came in handy as she used it to put Thaddeus Stevens (played by Tommy Lee Jones) firmly in his place at the President’s Ball. Another side of Mary Todd Lincoln was shown in the film. While emotionally charged and undoubtedly fragile, she also was a woman of concrete opinions and ideas. She was not merely a devoted supporter of her husband, but she was a powerful force behind him. She, a woman, knew of the goings-on of the presidency, of the political battlefield, she had her own thoughts about the best use of her husband’s power, and she was indeed one to be reckoned with. So another complex character gets my approval.
Tommy Lee Jones as the Asshole-With-a-Heart sort of melted mine. I liked that Thaddeus Stevens was disagreeable. I liked that his intentions were pure, outspoken, and unyielding. And I liked that when he came to that ultimate bridge where principle meets action, which he probably never imagined crossing, he crossed it. And I really liked the “twist” at the end, showing his personal stake in abolishing slavery.
It may have been long and it may have been dry, but I found myself emotionally and intellectually involved throughout Lincoln, and that is something of great importance to me.
This theme of actions vs. words, the blurring of the lines of good and bad, the sight of honorable intentions and dishonorable actions brings about the age old question of whether the means justify the ends. Do they always have to? Are victories less sweet when you’ve jabbed a hole in your moral compass to achieve them? Are pure and just goals reason enough to commit dishonest acts? Or do those ends become less pure, less just, in the process of objectionable procurement?
These are questions I cannot answer. But ones that I, and probably all of you, have wondered about.