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The Lincoln Movie - A Steven Spielberg Film

Updated on December 14, 2012

This Movie Portrays Lincoln as a Man, Not a Statue

Simply called Lincoln, Steven Spielberg's film is a masterpiece. He formed the idea of making a movie about Abraham Lincoln over 10 years ago. Liam Neeson was to play the role of the president, but he stepped down before the production started. The movie came into focus for Spielberg after the publication of Doris Kearns Goodwin's blockbuster book Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. The movie is based on the penultimate chapter of that book, which is about the passage of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. That is what the film is about: the drama and political wrangling that led to the passage of the bill. Because the film is based on history we know that the amendment had in fact been ratified, but in Spielberg's adroit hands you are in a constant state of suspense. Spielberg put the task of writing the screenplay in the hands of Tony Kushner, best known for writing the play Angels in America. It was produced by Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy and directed by Spielberg.

13th Amendment - The Setting

Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. The proclamation was based on Lincoln's war powers as Commander in Chief. It freed slaves in the Confederate states but it did not abolish slavery. Lincoln was concerned that the Emancipation Proclamation would be viewed as a war act, and that slavery would continue. He wanted slavery over once and forever. The way to do that was to get the Thirteenth Amendment ratified.

The Thirteenth Amendment states:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation

The story takes place in late 1894 and early 1895, the waning months of the Civil War. Don't expect a war movie; it's not. Nor is it a regurgitation of historical scenes akin to a documentary. Lincoln is a drama of relationships among powerful men. Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's research, the film portrays the back room deal making and vote buying that were necessary because of Lincoln's insistence on getting the Thirteenth Amendment ratified. So your brother wants to be a postmaster? Great, can we count on your vote Congressman? The movie shows a sometimes low road to a great place.

The Cast - The Major Roles

Daniel Day-Lewis plays Lincoln, in what may be the finest performance of his career to date. Many actors have played the part of Abraham Lincoln over the years. What is riveting about Day-Lewis' portrayal is his capture of Lincoln as a man, not as a period set-piece. Lincoln spoke in a somewhat high pitched tone, like a tenor, not a soprano and Day-Lewis gives it a marvelous turn. What we know about Lincoln from hundreds of books is that he had a mildness about him, a fairness, a patience, and a way of engaging people not with bluster but with soft words and a rapier sharp mind. Lincoln was no LBJ, nor was LBJ a Lincoln. Day-Lewis gives us this Lincoln, historically accurate and moving. Day-Lewis is well known for his devotion to the Method School of acting. So totally would he engross himself in the role that people found it difficult to communicate with him during a day of shooting. At the end of the day he became a regular man, but during a shoot he was Lincoln.

David Strathairn delivers a solid performance as Secretary of State William H. Seward, a man in constant communication with Lincoln. Strathairn was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Edward R. Murrow in the movie Good Night and Good Luck.

Sally Field plays First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, a woman known to be complex, difficult and eccentric. Field waged a campaign of her own to land the role, and the result makes us glad she did. Her portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln perfectly rounds out Day-Lewis' interpretation of Lincoln. You feel like you know these people.

Have you seen Lincoln Yet. Please give your rating.

5 out of 5 stars from 2 ratings of The Movie Lincoln

Tommy Lee Jones plays the Radical Republican congressional leader and staunch abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens. Jones is systemically incapable of a poor performance, and his role in Lincoln further cements his reputation as one of America's great actors. His speeches before Congress are riveting as are his scenes of backroom dealing. He is saddled with a silly looking wig in the film, but that did not take away from his stellar performance.

Hal Holbrook plays Francis Preston Blair, a Republican leader who tries to arrange for a peace meeting between a delegation from the Confederacy and a Union group. It's interesting to note that Holbrook won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in a TV miniseries in 1976 entitled Lincoln.

James Spader plays William Bilbo, a Republican political hack whose job it is to round up votes for the ratification vote. Spader is a veteran actor of many films, but perhaps best known for his role in the TV series Boston Legal. His role as Bilbo in Lincoln is at times funny and startling as he horse trades and cajoles the congressmen for their votes.

The Box Office

Lincoln is a hit, perhaps a blockbuster. It has received wide critical acclaim and we await the Oscars to see which of the nominees win, and there will be plenty of nominees. The film was released on November 9, 2012. A month later the movie grossed $87,088,719 domestically, more than covering its cost in one month.

See this movie.

Copyright © 2012 by Russell F. Moran


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    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks for your comments James. I hadn't heard that about Spielberg. I try, and it's not always easy, to distinguish Spielberg the brilliant film maker from Spielberg the predictable darling of the Hollywood left.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

      Your review if great! And I am sure the film is as well.

      Daniel Day-Lewis is one of my favorite actors and there is no doubt that Spielberg is the master of cinema. I was so excited about this movie coming out that I couldn't wait for its release. But I haven't seen it.

      A week before the election of 2012, I saw Spielberg on television explaining that he had purposefully delayed releasing the film until after the election because it glorifies a Republican, and him being a staunch Progressive, he was afraid it might sway some votes. Something about that didn't sit right with me. Something ineffable.

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks Jools. Wait a minute - you mean Alec Guinness isn't Obiwan Kenobi??

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks so much Skye. You will love this movie, a newly hatched classic.

    • skye2day profile image

      skye2day 5 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      rfmoran WOW thank you for a fantastic review of the movie. I am excited to go and see it. Abe is my man I just love him. He truly was a man after Gods heart and not afraid to say so. He warned us as a nation to not to drift from God so Gods blessings would remain on us. His words echo to our nation today.

      You rfmoran are a great writer. Your work just flows. Look forward to more reads. Many Blessings to your russ. Skye

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 5 years ago from North-East UK

      Russell, your review is compelling and made me definitely want to see Lincoln. I think Day-Lewis is amazing in the video here though if I was an actor he would drive me mad with the whole 'method' mularkey ; Alec Guinness was an amazing actor but as he once told a Star Wars fan who asked him for an autograph "It's only acting, I'm not really Obiwan Kenobi you know?" (spelling may be wrong there!)

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks Susan. Don't miss the movie.

    • Vacation Trip profile image

      Susan 5 years ago from India

      Excellent review, very impressive writing :)

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks Judi. Don't miss it!

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks. A true classic.

    • Kenja profile image

      Ken Taub 5 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Agree Russ, it is a gem. I look fwd to seeing it again, and sooner than later. As a work of art, it is rich beyond measure. The writing, the directing, and the acting, all stellar. As a work both of historical cinema and as a living metaphor for the contentious politics of our own time (the act of ultimate political courageous alongside the art of down, dirty and necessary horsetrading), it is as brilliant as it is instructive.

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks. Don't miss it.

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks Bill. A great flick.

    • Blawger profile image

      Bahin Ameri 5 years ago from California

      This a great review of what I expect will be an award-winning film. Daniel Day Lewis never ceases to amaze me and Spielberg never disappoints (well, except for Super 8). Voted up and interesting!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I have seen it, and I echo your sentiments....this is a cinematic masterpiece and the acting is first rate all the way. Great review of a great movie.

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judith Hancock 5 years ago from UK

      Looks good - and I am rather partial to Mr Day-Lewis! Will look out for it when it eventually arrives over here.