Did you know that Abraham Lincoln was our first ninja President? (Our second, of course, being Grover Cleveland.) It’s true! As Steven Spielberg shows in his, uh, 4-month biopic of the 16th President, despite being nearly 8 inches taller than the average person and the most powerful person in the United States, Lincoln was able to sneak into a room unnoticed until he’d suddenly shock everyone with a real-life parable relevant to the crisis at hand.
It is a little weird. There’s the ninja Lincoln thing, for example. And the fact that the movie eschews various iconic moments conspicuously. The Gettysburg Address is one example, but the more interesting one is that rather than showing Lincoln being shot in the Ford theater, they show the theater his son was at when they announce that Lincoln was shot.
Then there’s the whole story. This is, essentially, an American version of Amazing Grace, the under-rated English film with Ioan Gruffud as William Wilberforce, with the whole story focused on Lincoln’s efforts to get the 13th Amendment passed during a lame duck Congress.
The Boy, for whom Amazing Grace was his favorite picture at the time, liked this movie a great deal, and as a tale of parliamentary wranglings, I suppose it’s not bad. The Flower also liked it. Mah Mommah, who doesn’t see a bunch of movies, thought it was (literally) dark and talky (and it is).
Daniel Day-Lewis is, of course, brilliant. The movie is packed wall-to-wall with some great actors but they could’ve just had Day-Lewis doing the ninja thing and it would have worked just as well. The Breitbart review criticized Tommy Lee Jones for being Tommy Lee Jones, but I actually thought he had some nice subtleties and really wasn’t the usual character.
Sally Field was…well, let’s say that the parts of the movie surrounding Lincoln’s family were generally the weakest, especially the parts about Mary Todd. The ubiquitous Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Lincoln’s older son, champing at the bit to go off to war, while Dark Shadows’ Gulliver McGrath plays the younger Lincoln boy—but the personal drama feels tacked on and doesn’t really go anywhere.
Meanwhile, the legal wrangling is engaging, but it raises more questions than it satisfactorily answers. The whole point of the corrupt exercises (and they are corrupt) is to get the 13th Amendment through the Congress before the Civil War’s end. The election has already happened and it’s a cinch that the Amendment will pass once the new Congress is in.
So…what’s the hurry?
The movie tells us that a court might undo the Emancipation Proclamation, which was a dubious thing based on an expansive interpretation of the Presidential war powers. I don’t know if this is true. It seems improbable to me that a nation, weary of war and angry at the losers (the South), would then expend resources toward rounding up formerly freed slaves.
Or, perhaps more importantly, that the Chief Executive couldn’t stop that, or get an amendment passed before anything could actually happen.
But maybe I just don’t get it. I also didn’t get why there would be any debate among the Republicans about ending slavery, given that that was the party’s raison d’être.
I guess what I’m getting at is that I think a better movie would’ve minimized the personal life aspect and focused entirely on the political, with some cinematic representations of the danger. The threat ends up being very abstract.
I don’t think it will age well. Here’s an illustration of why. This article picks apart the technical flaws, some of which it says were quite egregious and unfair, but then calls them “quibbles”. Why? Because while not “perfect” the film is “important”.
It’s all about Obama, you see. Our modern-day Lincoln.
As I said, though, it’s not bad. It is talky, so if that’s not your cuppa, give it a miss.