‘Lincoln’ is an engaging historical drama

Daniel Day-Lewis gives a power­house per­form­ance as the 16th Pres­id­ent of the United States.


Some­times a his­tor­ic­al drama can be snooze-worthy, es­pe­cially if you’re not a his­tory buff.

And while Lin­coln is a movie about an im­port­ant time in Amer­ic­an his­tory, I was con­cerned it might fall in­to that cat­egory. And it’s true, there was something about it that didn’t keep me as riv­eted as I would have liked.

It was even, dare I say, dull at times, like something that would be shown in a high school Amer­ic­an his­tory class. But, some­how I came away with a pos­it­ive im­pres­sion and would ul­ti­mately re­com­mend see­ing it.

A lot of the cred­it is due to Daniel Day-Lewis, who gives a first-rate per­form­ance as the 16th pres­id­ent. Day-Lewis seems more than just an act­or play­ing a role; he really be­comes Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln both phys­ic­ally and emo­tion­ally.

The movie fo­cuses only on the last few months of Lin­coln’s life, which saw the ends of slavery and the Civil War. Back then, it was the Re­pub­lic­ans who were con­sidered the rad­ic­als with lib­er­al opin­ions, in par­tic­u­lar about ab­ol­ish­ing slavery. Pres­id­ent Lin­coln be­lieved the De­clar­a­tion of In­de­pend­ence’s state­ment “all men are cre­ated equal” ex­ten­ded to the slaves, and that they should be free. It was the Demo­crats who were more con­ser­vat­ive and in­ter­ested in keep­ing the status quo.

Lin­coln is­sued the Eman­cip­a­tion Pro­clam­a­tion in 1863, which freed the slaves, but he real­ized that it prob­ably wouldn’t hold up after the war. Thus, he felt the need for the pas­sage of the 13th Amend­ment ab­ol­ish­ing slavery.

Lin­coln sig­nals a re­turn to form for dir­ect­or Steven Spiel­berg after last year’s ho-hum movie, War Horse. Lin­coln likely will be re­membered as among his best flicks.

Spiel­berg does not make Lin­coln emo­tion­ally ma­nip­u­lat­ing or a heavy-handed drama. In­stead, he lets the story tell it­self. After all, it won’t come as a sur­prise to the audi­ence that the North wins the Civil War or that slavery is ab­ol­ished.

Scenes such as when the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives votes to pass the 13th Amend­ment give the movie some ex­cit­ing and mem­or­able mo­ments.

Tommy Lee Jones puts in a com­ic­al, yet mem­or­able per­form­ance (he gets laughs from the bad wig be­fore even open­ing his mouth) as Thad­deus Stevens, a Re­pub­lic­an con­gress­man from Pennsylvania. Stevens’ pas­sion­ate and out­spoken opin­ions to­ward end­ing slavery make him a char­ac­ter the audi­ence can root for as well.

While Lin­coln is set dur­ing the middle of one of Amer­ica’s worst wars, most of the “ac­tion” (the battles) hap­pens off-screen. You know it’s hap­pen­ing, but you don’t see much of the nitty-gritty. What we see in­stead is lots of lob­by­ing and meet­ings among the pres­id­ent, his cab­in­et and vari­ous con­gress­men ne­go­ti­at­ing the end of slavery.

Even if you’re not a his­tory buff, there’s still a good deal of en­ter­tain­ment to be had in Lin­coln. In ad­di­tion to Day-Lewis and Jones, I can’t for­get Sally Field’s great per­form­ance as the emo­tion­ally un­stable wife Mary Todd Lin­coln. Lin­coln is worth see­ing as much for the cast and act­ing as it is for the story. ••

Movie Grade: B+

You can reach at shorbrook@bsmphilly.com.

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