8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Superb, if a bit saintly,
This review is from: Lincoln (DVD)
"Lincoln" is a marvelous portrait of our 16th president and his times, splitting the difference between hagiography and straight history. Spielberg has grafted the savvy conniving politician of Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals" with the otherworldly, solomonic martyr of post-Civil War history. The film focuses on the events of January 1865. The Civil War, all but won by the Union, is drawing its final labored death gasps. Lincoln is torn between an offer by Confederate representatives that might end the war (though short of an abolition of slavery) and the possibility of passing a constitutional amendment (with a Congress full of Union supporters) ending the practice. The film deals with the backroom dealing (including practices that were second cousins to flat-out bribery) that pressured lame duck congressmen to either support the amendment or to abstain from voting.
Those who have read "Team of Rivals" won't be surprised by the portrayal of Lincoln as a complex man and a savvy politician. He brings the DC telegraph office to a standstill with a still-funny bawdy story about a portrait of Washington in a British privy. He and wife Mary get into a fight about Mary's worry about son Robert joining the army. Lincoln opines on his presidential powers to a rapt cabinet in one scene, then in another, bellows at them to get into line behind his leadership.
Daniel Day-Lewis is masterful is Lincoln, inhabiting his character to the point that you forget you are watching an actorly portrayal. But the biggest surprise was watching Sally Field (!) bring a lively (if questionable) portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln to the screen. Fields' Mary is tough, with a sharp tongue for politicians too eager to investigate her expenses than providing her with a livable White House. Her "madness" is explained away as a consequence of grief over son Tad's death in Lincoln's first term. Your mileage may vary, however, as did Robert's in later years, when he confined Mary to an asylum.
Spielberg did a nice job bringing the look and feel of 1860s Washington to the screen. The Capitol dome was painted blue, the streets were unpaved (if unpoopy) and the president ferried around the city in an unroofed carriage. Tad Lincoln had the run of the White House and Robert Lincoln WAS at Appomattox for the surrender of General Lee's forces. The loving fatherly scenes of Abe and 12-year-old Tad were touching and beautiful. Some critics might wonder whether Abe was really as saintly as Spielberg made him out to be. In some scenes, a halo is all but visible, and the adulation of those around him borders on the mawkish. A scene in which ordinary soldiers recited the Gettysburg Address was moving, yet discordant in its unlikeliness. Certainly, there were more than a few - Democrats and Southern sympathizers - who considered him a figure of satire and cruel vilification. And while Spielberg put drama into the passage of the anti-slavery 13th amendment, the celebratory scenes at its passage seemed doubtful. But all in all, "Lincoln" brought a measure of complexity to one of the most pivotal figures in American history.