November 22, 2012 – This week in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered the most famous American speech ever to a crowd that gathered near a train stop in Gettysburg, Pa., known as the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln had just won re-election and in the speech, he passionately restated the principles of equality first proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence.
It’s only fitting that almost exactly to the day, although 149 years later, Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” opened in theaters giving us the unique opportunity to witness this amazing part of American history.
“Lincoln”, which stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field, as the president and Mrs. Lincoln, along a huge supporting cast, many of whom you will recognize, led by the incomparable Tommy Lee Jones, begins just after the Gettysburg Address. The Civil War is entering its fourth year, the nation is weary, and Lincoln is trying to pass the 13th Amendment that will abolish slavery.
The acting in this ensemble drama is top-notch all around, and provides for a thoroughly entertaining 180 minutes. Even though we all know what happens, it was fascinating to watch it play out on the silver screen. Day-Lewis is one of the finest actors of our time, and plays Lincoln to perfection, capturing his voice characteristics and his passion for telling stories that often turned into philosophical life lessons.
What struck me most about the film was observing the actions of the politicians. As the Republicans, who wanted to abolish slavery, and the Democrats who were opposed abolishing it, battle it out in Congress, it felt very modern, as if it could be happening today. These parties didn’t like each other in the 1800s either, giving the audience a glimpse into the world of bribery, lobbying and trying to secure the votes on both sides any way possible. There were also a few entertaining lines that alluded to the corruption of the government, and how you can never trust politicians. It’s not that I believed today’s politicians invented this way of doing business, but I realized that maybe it’s not really much worse today than it was 150 years ago.
Another surprising part of the story came from how it portrayed Mary Todd Lincoln. Field did well enough in the role, despite some critics panning her acting, but she didn’t stand out in a cast of greats. Her Mary was a paranoid woman, who often fought with Lincoln, nagging him endlessly about being the one that everyone liked, and blaming him for the death of one of their sons. It’s a part of history I certainly didn’t know before I saw the movie.
“Lincoln” is an entertaining lesson in history, and from everything I’ve read, it tells the story factually. It’s always fun when you discover something new about the history you thought you knew by heart.