We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.
Spielberg tells Cody about the 16th and the 13th.
If you haven't yet gotten your fill of Republicans and Democrats arguing this election year, if you can tolerate two and a half hours more of it, Steven Spielberg's Lincoln is an interesting, involving and entertaining look at the political process at a very important time in U.S. history.
This isn't the sort of biopic that tells the story of its subject's life from childhood on, this one focuses entirely on one specific period in the life of Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States. It's the story of the last five months of his life, beginning soon after his election to a second term in November of 1864 and following his efforts to get the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution - the amendment that would abolish slavery - signed into law in the window of time before his second inauguration.
The Republican and Democratic parties were quite different in the time of Lincoln, but the more things change, the more they stay the same, as even then they had an angry distaste for each other and couldn't come to agreements or compromise on issues to get things done for the country. While Lincoln, the first Republican President to be elected after the formation of the party in 1854, was beloved by many, members of the opposing party saw him as a power hungry dictator.
Lincoln had been able to get the 13th Amendment passed by the Senate very easily, but as the film begins the amendment has been at a standstill, blocked by the House of Representatives, for the better part of a year. The United States has been embroiled in the horrific Civil War between the government-supporting Union states and the eleven secessionist Confederacy states for years, but now the end is in sight. Lincoln wants to get the amendment passed before the war officially ends because he had made the Emancipation Proclamation at the beginning of 1863, wherein the slaves in the Confederate states could be seized as property and freed. If the war ends with slavery still intact, all of those freed slaves could well end up back in the service of their previous owners.
To push the amendment through, Lincoln needs to get Republicans to vote unanimously in approval, but he also needs at least twenty Democrats to cross party lines and vote along with them. The period of time between the election and inauguration is ideal, because the Democratic Representatives who weren't re-elected are the ones mostly likely to change their position, since they no longer have anything to lose. Lincoln's friend and Secretary of State William Seward, played by David Strathairn, is the most prominent member of his cabinet in the film and isn't sure about this amendment push, but he does what he can to help things along.
Much of the film deals with the pursuit of those twenty votes, whether it be through Lincoln having personal meetings with Representatives, or Dems being browbeaten into rethinking their votes by Tommy Lee Jones as abolition activist Thaddeus Stevens, or the work of a trio of lobbyists played by James Spader, John Hawkes, and Tim Blake Nelson. The efforts of the lobbyists provides the film with its most straightforward comedic relief, the majority of it from Spader as a man named Bilbo.
Amidst the vote chasing, we get a good look at who Lincoln is as a person through his interactions with others, like Sally Field as his emotionally unbalanced wife Mary and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as his son Robert, who feels intensely obligated to enlist in the Army despite the objections of his parents, and through the stories he tells to anyone who's willing to listen.
Daniel Day-Lewis adds another amazing performance to his filmography with Lincoln, fully inhabiting and disappearing into the character as he always does. As everyone notes, he delivers his lines in a softer, higher voice than the deep, booming, commanding, Gregory Peckian voice the man whose image graces our money and a mountainside is often imagined to have, Day-Lewis's approach being apparently more accurate. His Lincoln often comes off like a kindly grandfather, and is pleasant and captivating to watch. He's not a perfect man. He acknowledges that some decisions he's had to make have been questionable, but he felt they were the necessary ones, the right things to get the country through the tumultuous times. He is sickened by the idea of slavery, wants to end it, and yet when asked by a black woman what he thinks of her race and what will happen when they're free, he answers, "I suppose I'll get used to you."
Lincoln has some strong competition, but from what I can tell, and what I personally think, it may well be the front-runner for Best Picture this year.
I saw the movie in a packed theatre on Wednesday, the evening before Thanksgiving, pretty appropriate timing since Lincoln was the President who made Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. Although, Lincoln would've celebrated it on the 29th of this month, as he had set the day of thanks to be the last Thursday of every November. As of Thanksgiving 1942, the holiday is observed on the fourth Thursday of November, whether that be the last one or not.