I honestly was going to let this one slide by. I had heard all the speeches were boring people to tears, and I have an issue with “historical” movies that actually treat history like a paper towel used to mop up the baby upchuck that passes for stories in most movies these days. I had heard that Daniel Day Lewis delivered a powerful performance, but my contrarian nature tends to disincline me to see what everyone else thinks is great. Just look at how long it took me to finally see the Artist.
Fortunately I have a friend who really wanted to see it and the fact that it is still in theaters says a lot about it’s staying power. Going in I was afraid the film would have me wishing fondly for a return of Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter but I was very pleasantly surprised. Like my experience with The Artist I found myself eating crow with my popcorn and wondering what the hell the deal is with my deep-seated psychosis that keeps me from doing stuff I should enjoy. (Lincoln image courtesy of the Funny T Shirt category, incidentally)
The speeches and stories are indeed long. I can easily see how someone who has no patience or appreciation of a powerful performance or craves action films would find this dull, and for you sir I recommend Parker (the film I reviewed yesterday). I consider it a sign of my maturing cinema eye that I enjoyed it so much. In the years prior to starting this blog I probably would have been bored stupid(er). However, when you see every bad action movie done you find yourself craving a film based on more than explosions and cheesy CGI effects (I’m looking at you, Michael Bey).
The story is of Lincoln trying to ramrod the 13th Amendment through congress in the last few months before the Civil War ends. Not only does he have very specific reasons for needing to do so, but he explains them and they all make total sense. He does seem more motivated by the abolition of slavery than I happen to know he really was (Lincoln’s real motivation was always the preservation of the Union. The Emancipation Proclamation was a political move designed to keep France and Great Britain from siding with the Confederacy, and even the 13th Amendment was more to make his Proclamation legal. Here is an excerpt from a famous letter to Mr. Horace Greeley in 1862: “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.” This is why you don’t want to see historical movies with me). I guess some rosy painting is a good thing, although a lot of the really fervent Abolitionism was put in the mouth of assorted Congressmen.
At that point this movie becomes a political thriller as he wheedles assorted Democratic Congressmen to vote yes. He hires a team of guys to do a lot of the dirty work and is both aided and confounded by his main Congressional supporter Thadeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones-the Fugitive, Men In Black, No Country for Old Men). His wife Mary (Sally Field-Forest Gump, Mrs. Doubtfire, Brothers and Sisters) seems bent on making his life hell, which she for the most part does. His son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt-Looper, Inception, Premium Rush) drops out of school and joins the army. Honestly that’s about it. This movie isn’t great for the story. It’s about the performances.
The stars. Daniel Day Lewis nailed this roll. Three stars for a stellar performance. All the supporting actors were amazing. Not a bad egg in the bunch. Two stars. Good story and well paced. Even scenes that should have felt like they were dragging were actually timely. One star. Historically accurate enough to not drive me bonkers. One star. It was really refreshing to see a Congress that can actually get something done and compromise, as opposed to the clown troupe we are stuck with these days. One star. There was almost no action whatsoever, and honestly the movie was better for it. One star. Total: nine stars.
The black holes. Not much, really. I was definitely feeling the 150 minutes on my bladder, but didn’t want to cut out for a break. That wasn’t a pacing problem. I think this is going to be one of those extremely rare gem among gems wherein I find no nits to pick. Well done, Mr. Spielberg.
So nine stars and not a single black hole. Definitely see this film. If you missed it in the theater NetFlix is as soon as you can. Well worth your time, and very true to the PG-13 rating so if you want to bring your kids to something both cool and educational go for it. Date movie? No reason not to. Nothing to really get her turned on except a weird liberal satisfaction at seeing justice done in our history. Bathroom break? I actually really needed one and held it. There isn’t a scene in this film you will not regret missing. If you really have to go to avoid embarrassment I’d say the scene where General Grant is negotiating with the Confederate peace commissioners. Less important than other scenes and you get the gist of it in a couple later scenes, but still try to hold it.
Thanks for reading. I’m seeing Warm Bodies and am really looking forward to it, so either I will be effluent in my praise tomorrow or so bitterly disappointed that the bile will ooze from your computer monitor and run all over your keyboard. I hope it’s the former. Follow me on Twitter (please, for God’s sake. My low numbers are starting to hit my self esteem pretty hard) @Nerdkungfu. Feel free to post comments on this review at the bottom of this page (if you don’t see a comment section click here). Any off topic questions or suggestions can be emailed to email@example.com. Talk to you all soon.