Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thoughts on Lincoln: the Movie

The two films I have been most excited to see this holiday season have been Lincoln and Les Misérables.

I did not know what to expect of Lincoln, but I knew that with Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role that the portrayal would be of exceptional quality.  He did not disappoint.  With all that we do know about our 16th president, there is also a lot that we don't know.  Yet Daniel Day-Lewis created the Abraham Lincoln that I imagine really existed, from his wit, to his posture and gait, to his stoop, which increased as the duties of his office became more burdensome and as the Civil War raged on year after year.

The film does run long, and there were certain parts that I felt could've been edited further.  It centers mostly on the passing of the 13th Amendment, and some of those scenes left me weary, although they were notably important, no doubt.  I preferred the scenes that did not involve acquiring votes and arguing, but showed the intimate relationships that Lincoln had with those closest to him.

I loved the close, easy bond that he had with this youngest son, Tad (wonderfully acted by Gulliver McGrath.)  I also loved how Steven Spielberg showed Lincoln's accessibility.  He visited the wounded in hospitals and soldiers on the battlefield.  He was able to drive undisturbed through the streets of Washington DC in an open carriage.  People could go to the White House and speak to him about local issues.  It was a time in history when presidential responsibilities were mostly focused on the country and not internationally. A time very different from now. 

If the film is accurate, it was also interesting to see people's reactions to their leader.  His opponents reviled him, his allies respected him, even putting up with his stories and quirkiness.  And his inner circle, mainly his youngest sons and house staff, adored him.

The supporting cast was very competent, although when I see Sally Field (Mary Todd Lincoln) and Tommy Lee Jones (Thaddeus Stevens) I can only see the actors, not the characters.  I like them both, but their appearances are too recognizable.  James Spader was excellent as W.N. Bilbo, and Lee Pace--a personal favorite--fully morphed into the loathsome Fernando Wood.

Lastly, there is the voice.  There are no known recordings of Abraham Lincoln's voice, but history has recorded that is was slightly high, yet relaxed.   In an interview I saw, Steven Spielberg said that Daniel Day-Lewis created the voice on his own and then sent him a private recording in which he was reading one of Lincoln's speeches.  Whatever Lewis's process, the voice he created was an incredible addition to the character.  And the occasional "ain'ts" and "I seen" reminds us that this was a self-taught man from extremely humble beginnings.

I love well-made movies.  Lincoln is one of them.  Seeing this great, yet enigmatic, man brought to life in such an amazing way was thrilling.  I recommend it.

This is a 43 second clip from one of my favorite scenes. A link to the film's trailer will appear on the bottom left.

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