Tuesday, January 1, 2013

President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) has a moment of reflection in LINCOLN.

Lincoln... Happy New Year, everyone! I'm more than a month late, but just thought I'd start off 2013 by posting my review of Steven Spielberg's critically-acclaimed biopic about this nation's 16th president. Not only is Lincoln well-acted and well-scripted, but it is also totally relevant to today's political climate in the U.S. For those of you who have already seen the film, you'd know that the Congress depicted in the movie was just as divisive as the legislature that works on Capitol Hill today. In Spielberg's flick, you have the Republicans and (then-newly-created) Democratic Party sparring over the passage of the 13th Amendment (which abolished slavery in America) and trying to end the war with the Confederacy. In the Congress of today, you had the Republicans and Democrats sparring over the recently-passed bill that prevented the so-called fiscal cliff from taking place (at least for the next two months); the continued debate over legalizing same-sex marriage (the scenes in the movie where 19th century politicians consider interracial marriages to be unfathomable makes one think about how national leaders, and the public in general, will view gay and lesbian rights two hundred years from now)...as well as how to deal with post-war Afghanistan once the U.S. completely withdraws its troops from there next year. Clearly, the story of Honest Abe was compelling enough for Spielberg to bring to the big screen once more...and make it relatable to events of the 21st century.

Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field) gets into a spirited conversation with her husband in LINCOLN.

In terms of the acting in Lincoln, what's there to say except that you can expect an Oscar nomination or two for the talented cast that worked on the movie? Daniel Day-Lewis was totally convincing as Abraham Lincoln (even though Day-Lewis didn't convey Lincoln's deep, gruff voice that the president is famous for), with Tommy Lee Jones giving both a fiery and amusing performance as Republican leader Thaddeus Stevens (I wonder if Stevens was actually as bad-ass as Jones made him out to be in the film). Sally Field was terrific as the president's oft-unhinged wife Mary Todd Lincoln, while Joseph Gordon-Levitt was commendable as their strong-headed son, Robert. Rounding out the stellar cast is David Strathairn as William Seward (a.k.a. the guy who bought Alaska in 1867's then-called Seward's Folly), James Spader (who was in the previous season of NBC's The Office) as Tennessee lawyer W.N. Bilbo, Hal Bolbook (of TV's Sons of Anarchy and the upcoming Gus Van Sant film, Promised Land) as Francis Preston Blair, Jackie Earle Haley (of the 2009 flick Watchmen and the now-defunct FOX TV show Human Target) as Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, Bruce McGill (who lent his voice to FOX's The Cleveland Show and Family Guy, and appears on the TNT TV show, Rizzoli & Isles) as U.S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and Jared Harris (of TV's Mad Men and Fringe, as well as 2011's Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) as U.S. General Ulysses S. Grant. There are a lot of other phenomenal actors in Lincoln, but this paragraph would go on forever if I listed them all.

Mary Todd Lincoln greets Republican leader Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) during a White House dinner party in LINCOLN.

One gripe that has been made about Lincoln is its ending...which doesn't come as a surprise. Ever since 1998's Saving Private Ryan and (especially) 2001's A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Spielberg has been known for protracting dark and intense films with sugarcoated happy endings. This is especially true with A.I. and the 2002 Tom Cruise flick, Minority Report. In Lincoln however, some moviegoers remarked that the film should've ended with Lincoln triumphantly walking down a hallway as his African-American butler looked on following the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Instead of this (appropriately) happy ending though, Spielberg decided to conclude the flick with Lincoln's assassination at Ford's Theatre (though we never see John Wilkes Booth fire his pistol). However, one can understand why Spielberg would end the film when Lincoln unfortunately lost his life; right after the President took his last breath at Petersen House (where he was taken to following the shooting), Secretary of War Stanton actually commented that the President now "belongs to the ages." Considering how the movie depicted Lincoln's struggle and ultimate success in ending the Civil War...and slavery along with it, this was a fitting line to include at the finale of the film.

Robert Lincoln (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the president's son, wants to enlist in the U.S. Army during the Civil War in LINCOLN.

Less than two weeks from now, expect to see Lincoln nab several Academy Award nominations...especially in the upper categories. Best Picture, Best Director, possibly Best Actor, Actress and Supporting Actor (for Tommy Lee Jones) and Best Adapted Screenplay (since Lincoln is based on the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin)— Steven Spielberg is a pro when it comes to conveying well-made historical dramas on the big screen. Whether it's Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan or his latest opus, Spielberg continues to show us why he's one of the greatest directors to ever work in Hollywood...with his newest film expressing how Abraham Lincoln was one of the greatest American leaders to ever reside in the White House. Some people and their feats do indeed belong to the ages.

President Lincoln triumphantly walks down a hallway following the passage of the 13th Amendment in LINCOLN.

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