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Abraham Lincoln, "Honest Abe" is amongst the most famous of US Presidents. His assassination while out at the Theatre by a confederate conspiracy guaranteed his immorality in the mind of most Americans. He is held up with JFK and George Washington, considering this fact there have been few films made about him.
The film starts very violently, showing a civil war battle with no holds barred. This does not last long and in a way reminded me of the start of Saving Private Ryan, shock tactics to draw the viewer in. If the violence is too much for you don't worry as it doesn't last long and is only at the start of the film.The remainder of the film is about Lincolns battle to get his 13th Amendment to ban slavery passed.
Acting is of course excellent as you'd expect especially from Daniel Day Lewis. He really looks the part, however the thing I noticed most straight away was his voice. It's very high pitched and floaty. A little research has uncovered that most experts, based on eye witness reports, believe he got the voice right. This role gave him his record breaking third Oscar.
Sally Fields is good as Lincoln's wife, she does not have a lot of screen time but is almost our view of the emotions Lincoln goes through.
Tommy Lee Jones has quite a large part as Thaddeus Stevens, a devoted anti-slavery campaigner and almost more important the Lincoln himself as a reformer. Jones gives his usual fine performance, including his limp.
Joseph Gordon-Levett seems to be in every other film these days, I still remember him as Tommy from Third Rock from the Sun. He's doing very well for himself these days. He plays Lincoln's son who wants to join the army and doesn't want special treatment. He is very good here.
The soundtrack is not memorable at all, I can't remember there even being one even though I know there had to be. This is more of a dialogue film really.
I have to say I am disappointed with Lincoln. It could have been so much more. It really only goes into the 13th Amendment, which is of course important but not all that Lincoln was or what made him who he was. The civil war is not covered in the depth I would have liked. Even the famous Gettysburg address is not seen, which is his most famous speech. I visited the Lincoln memorial a few weeks ago and it is very moving.
I'm not sure why Spielberg didn't show his earlier life, even a little of his childhood to give some perspective. Spielberg has covered slavery better in my opinion in the almost forgotten film Amistad.
That said, if nothing else it does encourage researching the life of the 16th president of the United States and 19th Century American history.
Main Cast List
Daniel Day-Lewis - Abraham Lincoln
Sally Field - Mary Todd Lincoln
Joseph Gordon-Levitt - Robert Lincoln
Tommy Lee Jones - Thaddeus Stevens
Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Running Time: 150 Mins.
Star - Daniel Day Lewis
Genre - Drama
County - USA
Certificate - PG13
Run Time - 150 minutes
Oscars - 2 (11 nominations)
Amazon - £12.75DVD (£18.00 Blue Ray)
So Daniel Day Lewis did it, the first man to win three 'Best Actor in a leading Role' Oscar's, presented the golden statue last week by Meryl Streep, who holds the same record for Best Actress. But was there any doubt he would get the hatrick? Such is his guile in picking roles he is an actor who has only done six movies in the past 15 years, an actor always in extreme demand, playing the aloof pseudo Irishman and currently a working cobbler in rural Ireland. He was also the first man to win an acting Oscar for a film directed by Steven Spielberg, an astonishing statistic if you think Spielberg has three directing Oscars himself in a an impressive 12 nominations, surely contemporary cinemas top director alongside Scorcese, the big two coming together here with the sole intention to produce quality work.
Spielberg had been working on Lincoln for 12 years and courted Daniel for most of that to play Abe, whilst Liam Neeson spent a similar amount of time courting Spielberg to get the lead role, sniffing a second Oscar to the brilliant Shindlers List. Lewis wrote a pretentious letter to Spielberg to give the reasons he didn't want to do it but Spielberg kept up and said he would only make Lincoln if Daniel played Abe and so the pretend Irishman realized he would be beaten by a real Irishman to the guaranteed Oscar the Iconic America role carried if he didn't take it on. Unsuprisingly Lewis stayed in character on set for the whole shoot, ordering his meals as Lincoln at the food van.
The film concentrates on Lincoln's biggest achievement, that of the emancipation of the slaves, all four million of them, a monumental change to America that would see Lincoln gunned down just two days after General Grant and Robert E Lee signed the surrender at the Civil War that was essentially about the slave trade. John Wilkes Boothe, a Confederate sympathizer, was enraged when he discovered Lincoln would now push to not only give Negros the right to vote but to full American citizens. But for all Abraham Lincolns noble actions to prevent slavery it's rather ironic that there are more slaves and bonded labor alive today than there ever was, at least that four million number of black Americans currently going through the US prison system still wearing ankle chains.
Americans have this bond with the US Constitution that it defines their freedoms and don't like it tampered with, the legal argument pushed by many states to keep slavery back then as slavery was enshrined in the constitution as law, be it ambiguously worded, as is most law, what makes lawyers all their cash. We see it with the 'Right to Bear Arms', where mostly white middle-aged Republicans claim they want to have a firearm to hand so they have the ability to rise up against the government if the ruling class break the constitution and oppress the people, when in reality they want guns to protect themselves from their grinding fear of black Americans, which brings us back to the countries slave legacy.
Daniel Day-Lewis ... Abraham Lincoln
Sally Field ... Mary Todd Lincoln
David Strathairn ... William Seward
Joseph Gordon-Levitt ... Robert Lincoln
James Spader ... W.N. Bilbo
Hal Holbrook ... Preston Blair
Tommy Lee Jones ... Thaddeus Stevens
John Hawkes ... Robert Latham
Jackie Earle Haley ... Alexander Stephens
Bruce McGill ... Edwin Stanton
Tim Blake Nelson ... Richard Schell
Joseph Cross ... John Hay
Jared Harris ... Ulysses S. Grant
Lee Pace ... Fernando Wood
Peter McRobbie ... George Pendleton
=== The Plot===
Its 1865 and the American Civil War is reaching its conclusion as the Union pounds the Southern towns and legions, especially Wilmington in South Carolina and Richmond in North Carolina, their strongholds. 600,000 are dead and the war reaching its 5th year. President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis) knows that victory is close for the Union (the remaining states) and so acts to push through the 13th Amendment, the landmark constitutional act which will forever ban slavery from the United States. But he knows if the war runs its natural course and ends soon the seven richest southern cotton states will be able to block the slave legislation after the war, and with a peace delegation on its way to Washington to push for that it may well be the end of the 13th. Lincoln has to act now to force through the amendment by almost any means, obtaining enough votes from a fractious but vulnerable Congress.
As they push to get the last 13 votes to carry the law as the big vote nears, Lincoln is also torn, as an early peace would save thousands of lives, a peace easily achievable, his own son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) wanting to sign up to do his bits before it all ends, mother Mary Todd (Sally Field) cursing her husband for even contemplating letting him go to war that is almost done.
As the nation and its parliament confronts its conscience over the freedom of the slaves over the Constitution that states slavery is part of it and so uphold the law, the charismatic Lincoln must be at his most political savvy to turn a handful or congressman and senators to secure the new America and so bring back the complete 50 state union with little animosity, General Robert E Lee and Ulysses Grant ready with the gold encrusted ink pen as the shells keep thudding into the trenches.
Steven Spielberg used to make great movies - now he makes Oscar movies, my only problem with Lincoln, which looks and sounds fantastic and authentic but lacks that Spielberg magic, erased by that need to impress The Academy more than the people. Ever since Saving Private Ryan he has become a different man for me, chasing awards with sprawling stuff like Gangs of New York and War Horse, dull and formulaic. Lincoln isn't too bad but it just hasn't got the drama and cinema romance we know Spielberg for.
As this is an 'Oscar movie' there is a lot of overacting as the cast try their hardest to stay with Daniel Day Lewis, but soon over the horizon, again magnificent under a tall hat, a bristling mustache and even bigger sideburns, his standard Oscar armor now, similarly attired in Gangs of New York and There Will be Blood for his last two Oscar shots. But my word he is good here and becomes Lincoln, defining America greatest president on screen, abundantly aided by Tony Kushner's intelligent and humorous screenplay. Another small issue here is Lewis and Spielberg's need to cram in all the famous and quoted stuff from Lincoln's life into the film, every line or quip he delivers profound and somewhat pithy. He doesn't seem to do anything on screen without being stately and wise, actor and director seemingly not wanting to damage the legacy of the legend, a bit like Jebediah Springfield in the Simpsons.
The film is not 100% factually correct and a suitable number of dusty professors stepped forward to contest the films message. The slavery ban was more complex than just a righteous president ending it as the cotton the southern states produced through slave labor was one of the biggest economic drivers of the Union. The Union needed those states back. It was The War of Independence from the British - who were buying most of the cotton and moving the slaves around - which truly freed the blacks some 100 years later. Somewhat pedantically the names of the congressman who voted to keep slavery during the films climax are changed in the movie so to protect living relatives today, going a bit far as a quick Google reveals those guys.
On the whole though the film is historically accurate enough for the audience to learn something about revered US president's actions for good and should be enjoyed for that alone. I personally felt Spielberg's Armistice was the better and more dramatic film on the issue but still enjoyed Lincoln.
As always Daniel Day Lewis is the film and you can't take your eyes off him, the greatest actor of our times in the way De Niro once was. If you can drag Daniel away from his shoes and anvils near Dublin and he pulls all the acting levers you know you will get at least 250 million gross and double figures Oscar nominations for your film. Lewis is like the U2 of cinema, no longer the angry young Bono of cinema that won the Oscar for 'My Left Foot', and should have for 'In the name of the Father', but commercial gold dust with retained credibility.
Rather exquisitely a one Dr Ranjan Batra of the University of Mississippi decided to check if the 13th amendment had actually been ratified, two thirds of states signing up to it 150 years ago but never quite sure if all 50 states did officially sign in the end. When he heard about Spielberg's movie he and some colleagues did an internet search and, rather amazingly, it hadn't officially been ratified. Mississippi were the last to vote and sign as late as 1995 but due to a clerical oversight the official piece of paper with the collated vote on was never sent to the Federal Register to be recorded, which they finally did on January 30th, 2013 after Ranjan Batra's hint. On February 7, 2013, the director of the Federal Register responded that the resolution had been received and that the State of Mississippi had finally ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The film Lincoln is the completion to Obama's journey to The Whitehouse.
Imdb.com - 7.7/10.0 (68,435 votes)
Metacritc.com - 86% critic's approval rating
Rottentomatos.com -% critic's approval rating
The Guardian -'What a feat from Day-Lewis: the nearest thing a 21st-century biopic can get to a séance'.
Movie Talk.com -'The actual vote on the Amendment proves surprisingly gripping, but elsewhere moments of piety and sentimentality undermine Day-Lewis's magnificent, credibly flesh-and-blood Lincoln'.
The Times -'It's tiresome to describe Day-Lewis as brilliant, so let's push the boat out: his Lincoln is absolutely wonderful.
New Yorker -' The true tussle of the movie, however, is between the Spielberg who, like a cinematic Sandburg, is drawn aloft toward legend and the Spielberg who is tugged down by Kushner's intricate screenplay toward documentary grit'.
Village Voice -' Lincoln is the work of a different director, one truly fascinated by why his subjects do what they do, one who invests each moment with the artistry'.
Cinema.com -'For the most part Lincoln is not a significant inclusion into Spielberg's filmography despite the noblest of intentions and undeniable cinematic craftsmanship'.
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This is a film only review as I saw this in the cinema and it is not yet out on DV in this country. My husband and I recently visited Springfield in Illinois and all the Lincoln sites including the museum where his story is told very well. We also visited his law firm, the old Senate building where a lot of this film is shot and indeed on a previous holiday we went to Appomattox where the end of the Civil War was agreed and signed and this was also in the film. I think the fact that we had only recently experienced all this made the film very much more interesting for us.
We went with my step son and we were all very impressed with the production and the acting was faultless bit as he pointed out, it was very heavy on the dialogue.
This is not Lincoln's life story and in fact it covers only a small part of his time as President; the last four months. In his first term he was VERY unpopular, mocked in the press both at home and abroad and yet by the time he died he had become extremely popular and his body was taken around the USA prior to his funeral.
The acting as I said was excellent with a performance from Daniel Day Lewis that would have fooled those who actually knew Lincoln I would imagine. His accent was amazing and the way he told the anecdotes were utterly believable and from what we learned when visiting the sites in Springfield the portrayal created by Daniel Day Lewis was hard to fault. Sally field was also just as I imagined his wife and she looked like the wax figure in the museum we visited and from what we learned she never really recovered from the death of her son and was not really happy in the White House at any time.
Lincoln appears to become very distracted by the 13th amendment and when his son returns from University and announces he want to join the army, Lincoln agrees and tells Mary that they must allow him to make his own decisions. This tips an already unstable Mary over the emotional brink and there is a very heated argument. According to records Lincoln did not have a very close relationship with his eldest son which is quite sad and maybe why he felt he should support his decision in joining the army.
I personally thought Tommy Lee Jones put in an excellent performance as Thaddeus Stevens and the two rather shady characters whose job it was the 'encourage' senators to vote for the amendment were also well acted. I was less impressed with Robert Lincoln who I felt was a bit wooden and his reaction to the hospital visit was a bit unbelievable but that is my personal opinion. Interestingly he is the only one of the four sons that the Lincolns had that lived to become an adult which was very sad I thought.
Lincoln is well known as the president who abolished slavery but in realty this passing of the 13th Amendment was a milestone but it was a only the start of the long battle for the people who were now free but what could they do with that freedom re jobs etc. It was a major breakthrough and a battle that cost him his life in the end. The fight was not always that clean and upright either but I suppose we have the benefit of knowing the future and the means did justify the end in this case.
Spielberg as a director enjoys a good historical drama and fortunately this one could not be ruined by the awful 'allo Allo' accents like 'War Horse' was. This was American and Daniel Day Lewis managed the accent perfectly even un criticised by Americans so that was one hurdle overcome.
The setting was also in America and the sites used were authentic. The Civil War battles I thought were a bit 'Gone with the Wind' personally and lacked the authenticity that Spielberg usually creates in his films but fortunately they were few and bot really essential to the story either.
I do wonder how popular the film will be for the average non American film goer as although the story is well known in America, the average English person I think would not really be familiar with it at all unless they were interested in history and American history at that.
Even though the film is excellent, the acting superb and the story well told I still think the film will have a limited audience. My family is a case in point. My daughter is an American history fanatic and has been to see it, my step son went with us and his interest in in the film making and the acting and he found it rather heavy on the dialogue. My two step daughters have no interest and both are teachers so not unintelligent but just have no interest. My son lives in Toronto and went to see it as he is very interested in US politics and history generally. I don't know anyone else of my friends and neighbours who want to see the film so I do think it will not stay in the cinemas fr long over here despite its Oscar nominations., and Bafta award for DDL of course.
I do think Spielberg and DDLcaptured Lincoln's character well with his gentle but determined approach to politics and his openness and willingness to talk to anyone and everyone. His strong commitment to abolishing slavery which began when he saw a slave auction when he was quite young also came through, as did his love for his family and his lack of discipline towards his boys.
DDL was just as I had pictured Lincoln when we visited all the sights connected with him. His looked like him; walked like he did in the films we saw and even spoke with the same soft rather unassuming voice telling those ambling but quite pointed stories.
I quite enjoyed the scenes in the senate and the debates, some were quite amusing. It made me smile when they were discussing that the Amendment bill would only free the slaves and not give them other rights as citizens such as the vote, goodness knows they will be giving women the vote next, was one comment. It does make you realise how far we have come in such a relatively short time in history when you hear things like that.
I didn't realise quite how close run a thing this Amendment being passed was. The difficult thing, apart from getting enough votes from not only his own party but also from the Democrats was that the North were winning the war and the South were making overtures for a surrender . If the Peace treaty had been signed before the Amendment passed Lincoln was certain it never would be passed as people would lose interest. Lincoln played a very dodgy game holding off peace talks until the Amendment was through and he was not entirely honest when questioned about thios either.
I mentioned Tommy Lee Jones before and he plays very outspoken Republican Congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens who is asked to curb his enthusiasm for the Amendment and emphasize its limitations even though he really wants it to go much further. Lincoln knows that he must get this first step through before he can move any further towards equality. Jones plays this role brilliantly and when the Amendment is passed and he returns home we see why he is so very adamant that black people should be given equality not just slaves freed.
Spielberg as always spent years preparing for the creation of this film. He always chooses to make films that are dear to his heart and puts his all into them. The sets were very authentic ans the rooms look exactly like you imagine they did, dark, filled with rather uncomfortable chairs and looking quite cold. The debates were lively and entertainly as a political debate can be at times
IS IT HISTORICALLY ACCURATE?
Tony Kushner's script has come under some criticism as in the film they had Connecticut voting against the 13th Amendment where as in fact they voted for it. Kushner responded by saying that he didn't feel a historical drama needed to be factually accurate .
"Accuracy is paramount in every detail of a work of history. Here's my rule: Ask yourself, 'Did this thing happen?' If the answer is yes, then it's historical," he wrote. "Then ask, 'Did this thing happen precisely this way?' If the answer is yes, then it's history; if the answer is no, not precisely this way, then it's historical drama."
I am not sure I agree with that and I am quite sure that the Democratic Connecticut Rep. Joe Courtney who spotted the error feels the same as I do. Dreamworks did say that this might be corrected before it is released on DVD. Interesting little fact I thought.
Another minor inaccuracy is when the peace is signed at Appomattox Courthouse. Grant is shown in the movie in a dress uniform, when apparently he was actually covered in mud and looking quite dishevelled and battle weary whereas Lee was upright and smartly turned out. Also the actual surrender took place face-to-face in a quiet room not as it was portrayed in the film . However that is a minor criticism but one most Americans would know and certainly one anyone who had visited Appomattox would know.
Lincoln was known for his jokes and story telling and using these as a way of diffusing sometimes tense situations. The story in the film about Ethan Allen and the British outhouse is one of his favourites but it is not known whether the story is actually true or just Lincoln's creation.
Yes if you have any interest in US history or just a darn good film about one of the most famous US presidents then do go and watch it. Be prepared for a lot of debate and dialogue and not a lot of action. The film is brilliantly put together and the acting fantastic, not only DDL but others too are excellent but he does indeed deserve the nomination for best actor and if I was choosing he would get the Oscar too but I don't think the film will get the best film Oscar as it has a limited appeal outside the USA. Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field have also both had nominations for best supporting roles and it will be interesting to see if they both get them. I do think Tommy Lee Jones was particularly good personally and it looked like he enjoyed the role.
Thanks for reading.
It's a story we all think we know so well. Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, abolished slavery. Yay, he's a hero and hurrah for Lincoln who remains an American icon. But Steven Spielberg is here to tell us that it wasn't a simple task by any means. Passing the 13th Amendment in the last few months of his Presidency, Lincoln achieved a milestone in American politics banning slavery outright - that's the end result. But what came beforehand was a whole heap of ups and downs that threatened its smooth course. For international audiences not familiar with the details and intricacies of the event, "Lincoln" can seem a daunting, information-heavy movie experience. But here is a film so well crafted, cleverly written and brilliantly acted that it forms as much as it entertains. Essentially this is a film where we see a lot of talking, between important individuals behind closed doors, but how Spielberg keeps every single minute of it all so fascinating is a real wonder.
One of the best, most deservingly respected and admitted actors of our generation, Daniel Day-Lewis, steps into the role of Lincoln. And it's in his cool, dignified and surprisingly witty interpretation of the character that we are immediately drawn into the drama of his tumultuous months. Delicately finding the balance between the many different aspects of his role, his leadership position as the President of his nation, as well as the more private, family-oriented side as a husband and grieving father, Day-Lewis once again shows there is virtually no limit as to what he can achieve. His performance is a deeply moving and affecting one, in his tight, rigid, tall frame, with his soft-spoken, eloquent voice, drifting from one scene to another, always grounded, concentrating in his many thoughts, and yet remaining entirely accessible to everyone watching him.
Politics has never been this exciting, gripping, and never have courtroom-style scenes been this overwhelmingly fun to watch. Of course, when Lincoln proposes this Amendment, there is as much support as there is harsh criticism. Within his own party Republican Party, Lincoln manages to secure enough support, mostly thanks to Francis Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook), a highly influential member who can guarantee support from the conservative Republicans. The catch with Blair is that he's keen to start the peace talks between the Union and the Confederacy hoping to end the Civil War that is destroying America. Peace is never a bad thing, especially when so many lives have been lost, but complicating matters is that Lincoln will no doubt lose a certain level of support for the Amendment should the War end before it is actually passed. If there is a real chance the War will end without this new Amendment passing, a lot of people will just not bother. This puts Lincoln in a precarious position of having to hold off on the peace talks as long as possible, whilst getting a move on with gathering enough votes.
Unafraid to voice their opposing views is the Democratic Party, led by Congressman Fernando Wood (Lee Pace) who is vehemently against these changes. End of slavery would inevitably lead to racial equality, and this is something even most members in the United States House of Representatives (all white) aren't willing to accept. So Lincoln must again walk a fine line between pushing his anti-slavery agenda whilst keeping it clearly separate from further racial issues. Another hiccup here - a vocal supporter for the Amendment, Radical Republican Congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) , again quite the influential man in the government, is a staunch supporter of racial equality. If this Amendment has any chance of passing, Stevens needs to keep a lid on his enthusiastic views, as to not lose anyone already on board.
Having to win with a majority, it's not enough just to have the backing of his own party. He needs to convince the Democrats, and in order to do so he needs to step into the rather dirty pool of politics - quietly promising federal jobs to persuadable Democrats for their votes. And so begins some intense lobbying, headed by William N. Bilbo (James Spader) and his fellow lobbyists Richard Schell (Tim Blake Nelson) and Robert Latham (John Hawkes). A lot of comedy ensues here, as not all of their attempts are entirely successful. Who says a two-and-a-half-hour-long political drama can't be funny?
And it's not just the politics keeping Lincoln busy: his family life is also given its share of meaty running time. His wife, Mary Todd (Sally Field), often suffering from terrible migraines and still reeling from the loss of their son, provides support although she herself sometimes requires some hand-holding of her own. More so when their eldest son, Robert Todd (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), upon returning home from his studies at Harvard Law School, announces that he wants to join the fight in the Civil War. Abraham respects his grown son's wishes, almost appearing uninterested, whereas Mary Todd, at the thought of losing another one of her children, cannot believe her husband's shockingly relaxed response. Already emotionally unstable, this pushes Mary over the edge, leading to a heated argument between the couple, which provides one of the film's finest scenes in which these two outstanding actors have at it with their built-up fiery emotions.
Spielberg reportedly spent almost twelve years in preparation for this movie, and it shows in his meticulous structure, authentic-looking sets, as well as the general atmosphere he places his actors into. Everywhere is appropriately dampened down with wooden furniture, smoke-filled and when required, complete and utter chaos, most notably in the House of Representatives, where hot-headed individuals mouth off and start attacking one another. There are plenty of elaborate set decorations and designs to marvel at, and the technical achievements are extremely vast.
There are lots of facts to be relayed to the audience - everything needs to ultimately make sense, and we must understand why various characters are doing what, with what intentions. And nothing could be made clearer in Tony Kushner's script. It is immediately clear that Lincoln had to go to great lengths to gain enough support, perhaps venturing into places he may not have been most comfortable with. Heatedly arguing, smartly bribing, calmly persuading, raising his voice (although very rarely), he's had to do it all, and the many fragile complexities that could either make or break the ambitious plan are told to us in a very logical step-by-step manner that all the dense material is told competently, whilst not confusing the hell out of anyone.
Then there is the cast - the phenomenal cast in roles both big and small who shine in every supporting part there is. Sally Field is typically strong, sturdy and feisty, Tommy Lee Jones has a lot of fun arguing his way against his opposing party (both actors thoroughly deserving their Best Supporting Oscar nominations) and Lee Pace provides the healthy opponent. Another stand-out is David Strathairn, as Secretary of State William H. Seward, a loyal friend and trusted advisor to the President, who stands by him as Lincoln faces one of the toughest, most unpredictable times of his Presidency.
What an incredible feat Spielberg has accomplished here - it's a film that is both intelligent and wholly comprehensible, an utterly enjoyable experience from start to finish, based on the unlikeliest subject matter.