Emotional, character-driven ‘Lincoln’
Everyone knows that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. Congress, the President and the states adopted the 13th Amendment. This knowledge is American History 101.
Count those immersed by Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” for an unexpected, unwilling suspension of disbelief. The procedures, laws and manipulations that surround our democratic political system boldly resonate through the skillful articulation of strong thespian assemblage headed by Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), David Strathairn (Secretary of State William Seward), Hal Holbrook (Preston Blair, Republican party founder), Tommy Lee Jones (Thaddeus Stevens), and Sally Field as the grieving Mary Todd Lincoln.
Situated during the scavenging last days of the Civil War – January 1865 and the surrender April 9 – the President passionately moves heaven and hell to legislatively legitimize his war powers backed action of the Emancipation Proclamation. Screenwriter Tony (“Angels in America,” “Munich”) Kushner melds that which would have been branded automatically BORING into crisp, hard-edged, suspenseful drama, which cumulates into similar emotions as the rousing hand clap wrap of a good dude trumping the dark side adventure.
Day-Lewis enthralls and entertains as an intentionally awkward yet comfortable Commander-in-chief who’d rather be espousing symbolic stories to avid listeners. Less than iron but obviously not putty, the accomplished actor swaggers from accomplished legalistic oratory to the vulnerability of a simple husband/wife disagreement escalating into wrenching family choices, conflicts and consequences ironically exacerbated by Lincoln’s multiple obligations.
Prone to small town lawyer adversarial analysis, Day-Lewis magnifies best endless legal rubrics of his slave freedom decision by argumentatively advocating both sides of the judicial fence concerning the propriety of emancipation war powers balanced by narrower constitutional restrictions.
Aside from a few horrific reminders of bludgeoned foot soldiers, “Lincoln” slips into dark, smoky hidden negotiations and strategies that accompany high stakes political lobbying. Kushner’s gift for juggling and unraveling the most convoluted into simplicity allows an insider’s look-see of candle lighted federal government at a time mostly free of multiple gatekeepers, Blackberries, and other daunting multi-layered insolation.
Avoiding institutional gridlock and political buzz phrases, the 1865 handshaking, arm twisting, favor laden power and ego stroking easily imparts application of fiscal cliffs, Mid-Eastern chaos, non-compromise, activist judges and another inch along a spectrum toward equality for all. It inevitably taints the absolutely pure “honest” Abe fable for one stained by political realities, then and now.
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