Posts Tagged ‘Abraham Lincoln’

Lincoln (2012) is one of the great films, so be sure to see it! But it won’t make everyone happy. The film is long (2hrs 29min), mostly dialogue with very little action, and is definitely a period piece. But for all of these same reasons, you should see it!

Lincoln, who generally ranks as the most influential president in our history, has been ubiquitous in cinema since its beginning, only a generation removed from his death.

The 1908 film The Reprieve: An Episode in the Life of Abraham Lincoln is the first known film to portray him, one which tells the story of Lincoln sparing the life of a union soldier who falls asleep on duty, a story re-told many times in later films, and to which Steven Spielberg pays homage when his Lincoln deliberates over the sentencing of a soldier for desertion.

Henry Fonda was perhaps film’s first great Lincoln. His performance in Young Mr. Lincoln(1939) set a high standard, but then Raymond Massey’s Lincoln in Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940) set the insurmountable standard most thought.  I would argue that Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal of the president has eclipsed both of these earlier giants.

Not only does Day-Lewis truly look like Lincoln, he speaks like him! When the first TV trailers came out, many were astonished to hear the high, tinny pitch of his voice as opposed to the more sonorous tones of Raymond Massey. Day-Lewis’s portrayal is more accurate and, once one gets over the initial dissonance, is more humanizing.

Henry Fonda as Young Lincoln

This Lincoln is very human: he stoops when he walks because he is so tall; his hair is disheveled and unruly; his grammar is hardly educated or refined, but these are just the superficial qualities that betray his humanity.  I love the scene when he lies on the floor by his sleepy young son Tad (short for “tadpole”), so that his son can crawl on his back and ride horsey off to bed.  I love his buggy ride with his wife and his stoking his own fire in his White House office—all as authentic as Steven Spielberg could make it.

I’ve read that the ticking of his pocket watch is truly the ticking of Lincoln’s actual watch; the sound of his carriage is also authentic, recorded from the sounds of a still-existing carriage of his.

Where Day-Lewis’s Lincoln excels, however, is in his ability to portray both the down-home and the imperial Lincoln!  No scenes are better than when Lincoln is telling a bathroom joke to a small crowd—he can’t help but laugh at his own jokes—except perhaps the brief scene when he stands and thunders, “I am the President of the United States and I am cloaked with tremendous power!”  To be able to capture the man who won the hearts of a nation and at the same time sent many of the sons of his people to their death in a brutally bloody civil war is a historic piece of acting. Daniel Day-Lewis is the new standard bearer.

Raymond Massey as Lincoln

You will also enjoy Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens, the Great Commoner, who was offensively common. Jones is perfectly cast for the part and rises to Oscar level in his supporting role.

You may or may not like Sally Field as Lincoln’s mad wife.  She is not a sympathetic character. If anything, Sally Field is overly sympathetic.  I thought she did a marvelous job portraying the damages of civil war on the president himself and his family.

The visual representation of the White House and of the chambers of the House of Representatives will take you to a different place in time. Again, absolute commitment to authenticity and a decade of research by Spielberg produced an intimacy in the film that is not typical. The low lighting of so many scenes—because it was winter in Washington—as well as the cramped spaces create the reality of the time.

I saw tears in our theater as you may also see or shed yourself because the 13th Amendment is being passed every three hours at most of the theaters in the US. We  witness the beginning of the journey to racial equality, one which we still find ourselves on, and we watch the moral courage of Lincoln with nothing and no one on his side—and we watch him win! And we are reminded that we all are better people because of his courage and determination.

Of course, he dies.  If you are interested in the assassination and its aftermath at all, you must see The Conspirator (2010), also an excellent film.

Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln

As the film concludes, audiences applaud—at least they did in our theater!  I did.

Lincoln is a brilliant reminder of other days of great dissension—even greater than today–but also that one man can make a difference if that man has vision, courage, and uses all he has been given to accomplish what is right!

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