Reviewed By

Christopher Armstead
This past year I've seen the sixteenth president of the United States of America, that would be Abraham Lincoln, slay vampires and give zombies the business.  Imagine my shock to learn that the man never did any of those things.  Thanks to Dreamworks, director Steven Spielberg and most importantly the phenomenal Daniel Day Lewis we have the epic 'Lincoln' which focuses on the last months of the Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, the dying days of the war with an opponent that was all but finished and his desperate, almost myopic vision to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which would abolish the institution of slavery in this nation once and for all.

Slavery is an abomination, we are all aware of this as this appears to be a self-evident fact.  However, if you believe… I mean truly believe… that God above designed a group of people for the sole purpose of brutal servitude to another group of people, which was the basic justification for slavery in this country, based on a couple of biblical versus I am all too familiar with that we won't get into right now… maybe then it becomes somewhat easier to understand why an estimated three quarters of a million Americans died fighting to persevere or to end this thing we see as a self-evident abomination.  God said this is the way it is supposed to be.

At the time we are joining in this movie, the end of the war is in sight, the south fighting on basically for pride and negotiating position for their inevitable surrender, and President Lincoln needs the House of Representatives to pass the 13th Amendment.  His cabinet doesn't understand why he's so adamant about getting this passed, considering it's doomed to fail since there isn't enough Republican votes to get
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it through the house and it's highly unlikely that a single Democrat will vote for the bill.  Besides, from his colleague's point of view, the President has already signed the Emancipation Proclamation and since the end of the war is in sight, the theory being that he can pass any law he wants to get passed when this inevitable occurrence happens.  It's complicated but for the President's plan to work, he needs this amendment to pass.

So with a war going on tearing this country to shreds, battling with The House, Congress, his own party and his own cabinet members, it looks like Mr. Lincoln has a lot on his plate, so surely his family life is calm and supportive considering the intense stress he must be going through, right?  Oh no, Mary Todd (Sally Field) seems to be two nickels short of a dollar with her tendency to light up anybody at any time for any reason, including Abe, then there's his son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who has dropped out of law school and seems determined to enlist and die in this war, against both his parents' wishes, but we can kind of see where the young man was coming from as this is something he felt he had to do.

At the center of all of this chaos was Abraham Lincoln, always seemingly calm, forever quick with an anecdote… much to dismay of many of his colleagues… with the fate of this nation in the balance.  Hate to spoil it for you but it all kind of worked out.  Maybe not the way we would've liked for President Lincoln, but then that's another spoiler. 

Since I enjoy studying history and learning about history, and taking into further consideration that the director and lead in this film are arguably the best ever at what they do, I was pretty confident even before I sat down in my theater seat that I was going to enjoy 'Lincoln', the only question remaining for me would be 'how much'?  The answer to that question was 'more than even I expected'.

My concern going into 'Lincoln' was that it was going to be a 'difficult' film. Steven Spielberg pretty much changed the way war films are presented with 'Saving Private Ryan' and the close-up and personal combat style that was The Civil War had me shuddering at what I might see.  Compound that with the looming specter of virulent and overt racism, something that is always difficult to watch even for someone who isn't the direct descendent of slaves as I am… I was prepared for a significant emotional impact.  But as it turns out 'Lincoln' isn't that kind of film.  There is only one battle sequence and the racism wasn't overplayed as it was just always there… like oxygen.  This telling of Abraham Lincoln's story is to The Civil War what the movie 'Margin Call' was to the recent financial meltdown.  It takes us behind the scenes of this beyond difficult time and gives us a detailed account of the backroom deals, arm twisting, bribing and occasional truth fudging that the president was willing to do to force his agenda across.  Not to mention what the other side was willing to do to preserve what they believe was their God given way of life.  Regardless of all of that, it plays out splendidly.

Other things that illuminated the times for me, such as how opponents of the 13th amendment saw it, was first you free the blacks, then give blacks the right to vote, then what?  Allow women to vote?  Oh hell no.  That's crazy talk.  Also, It appears in the 1860's everybody had access to the President.  Everybody.  You went to White House and waited in the lobby for your turn to bend the President's ear.  How awesome is that? I have a few things I'd like to say to President Obama, but nobody's letting me sit in the White House lobby any time soon.

At this point it is a given to say that Steven Spielberg knows how to frame a pretty picture and pace a film, just like it's a given to mention that Daniel Day-Lewis will envelope any character he chooses to portray, but both men were at the top of their already legendary games in this film.  Not to mention the solid support by a virtual who's who of some the best character actors working today such as Tommy Lee Jones, Gloria Rubin, John Hawkes, and Hal Holbrook just to name a few.

The bottom line, that is if you were to ask me, I'd have to say that 'Lincoln' is great film.  Watching Abraham Lincoln kill zombies and vampires is cool and all, but this visual history lesson is the best way to see Mr. Lincoln in all his glory.
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