This long-time-coming pet project of Steven Spielberg’s has finally made it to the big screen. It runs two and a half hours and covers a period from January to April of 1865. This is the last three and a half months of the Lincoln presidency. As it turns out, although Lincoln is the key character, the movie is not about Lincoln as much as it concerns the politics behind the adoption of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
Daniel Day Lewis plays Honest Abe about as well as he can be played. DDL’s screen representation shows Lincoln as he was – which was apparently a cross between a homespun Will Rogers type from the sticks, and a sage politician and wise leader. Also in the cast is Sally Fields as Mrs. Lincoln, who is distraught about possibly losing a son. This causes her to be drama-queen crazy from time to time. Other prominent parts go to Tommy Lee Jones, Hal Holbrook and James Spader. John Williams’ Americana score is subtle and dead on.
The film is more informative than entertaining. It is overly dramatic and talky, and seems set on teaching us all about the birth of the 13th amendment. It tries to create a suspenseful situation about whether or not it will get passed by Congress before Lincoln‘s deadline date of January 31st or be voted down by the Democrats again. Suspense is never really in issue. We all know the amendment was adopted and ultimately led to Lincoln’s assassination by John Wilkes Booth. The film is lushly produced and well worth your time. If you enjoy good acting, there’s plenty of it in Lincoln.
In 1972, the Broadway musical “1776” was brought to the big screen with the signing of the Declaration of Independence as its main subject. There was still time for singing and dancing as the politicians wound their way through the birth of a nation, the USA. It was writer Peter Hunt’s screen story debut and was not only entertaining but it had some good musical numbers and lots of humor. It also taught the history of the Declaration with a number of terrific ironies in the conclusion.
If Spielberg didn’t want to make a musical, he should have taken a lesson from that history and used a lighter touch; the seriousness of his subject is self-evident. This is movie making and not to be confused with crafting a good documentary. These truths we believe are self evident, the right of the audience to be entertained, not just awestruck, by the acting. 1776 is available on DVD and highly recommended. Lincoln is in the theaters and a little less so.
Rated 3.0 out of 4.0 Spirits of ‘76. Let Freedom Wave.