Tuesday, January 15, 2013

My Ramblings on Lincoln

"As the Civil War continues to rage, America's president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield and as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves." (from IMDB.com)

The last movie I saw over winter break was Lincoln, yet another movie that was based, at least in part, by a book. In this case it's a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin called Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. A book which, I'm a bit embarrassed to admit, I haven't read yet. It is on my ever growing to be read pile though, so at least that is a step in the right direction. 

As a history nerd (big, big history nerd) this movie was right up my alley. In both undergrad and graduate school my concentration focused on two things- Native American history and the time period from the Revolution to the end of the Civil War. Needless to say I have done a lot of reading and research on the time period during which this story takes place. When we decided to go see the movie I was halfway expecting to see a rehashing of things I already knew, but also excited to see if I could learn something more about Lincoln. I thought the movie was great, and Daniel Day Lewis was spectacular as Lincoln. A lot of it was stuff I already knew, but getting to see it acted out on the big screen brought an entirely new perspective to the story. We all know that Mary Todd Lincoln was a tad bit crazy, but getting to see Sally Field's portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln really gave a great insight into what the pressure of the White House did to her, and how dealing with her and their family impacted the president. 

What I particularly enjoyed about this movie was that it gave a nice inside glimpse of how congress worked back then (and still works now). Was it 100% accurate? Probably not, but the feel of it was right on. 

I loved seeing the internal struggle of both Lincoln and Thaddeus Stevens as they tried to reconcile what they were doing and what they needed to do in order to reach their end goals. It played as a story of whether or not the ends do truly justify the means. One quote by Steven's (and I'm trusting IMDB on the exact wording here) that was particularly telling was "The greatest measure of the 19th century was passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America." essentially admitting that yes, things were done behind the scenes that were wrong and corrupt, votes were bought and sold all over the place, but the end goal was a great one and that the smaller things that got them there, even though they were wrong, were nothing compared to the good that was done by ending slavery. Now, you argue left and right about whether Lincoln was acting outside his office as president in his actions in getting his amendment approved. In fact one of the most powerful scenes in the movie is when Lincoln essentially debates himself on that exact fact. He knows what he is doing, he is unsure of whether it is legal or not. but he has reasoned his way around to believing that regardless of whether it is right or wrong, he made his choices based on the fact that the end goal is for the betterment of the country and all it's people. Legal or not, he stands by his choices. Seeing that internal struggle was awesome. I wish there was a clip of that scene online that I could point people towards, but there's not.

As for the cast of this movie. It was really spot on as well. DDL and Field were great as the Lincolns and there was a nice balance between their personal lives and what was going on in the government. I loved James Spader as W.N. Bilbo, basically a sleeze ball hired to "persuade" congressmen to come around to Lincoln's point of view. Tommy Lee Jones was great as Steven's, who had some great moments as he went head to head with the democrats on the issue of slavery. I particularly like the moment when he acknowledged to his colleague that he was willing to compromise some of his beliefs in order to get the amendment passed. He knew that everyone was not ready to accept true equality, so he bit his cheek and went after what he knew he could get. Of course I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one of my favorite actors, Walton Goggins, who played Clay Hutchins. A smaller part, but an important one. His character was used to show how both sides were pulling at the folks in the middle, making offers and making threats to get what they want. When it came down to it though, Hutchins voted from the heart. Many others did too, but in using Hutchins to represent the group was a nice way to show the politics that were being played out behind the scenes. 

So... this post is getting long. It could be longer still. Whenever I see a movie like this I disappear down the rabbit hole a bit as I start reading up on the major players and compare what's out there with what I saw on the screen. I'll cut it here though. This was a great movie. Beautiful to watch and fabulously acted. If you get a chance definitely go see it!

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