We hold these truths to be self-evident, that this movie is a classic. That it was endowed by its creator the undeniable description of pure glory. That it has brought to its audiences, a new drama for the ages. The story of Abraham Lincoln and the ratification of the 13th Amendment. It’s a historical drama, with more emphasis on the drama than the history. In spite of this, it serves as an excellent counterpoint to the unmitigated glory of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”
Honest Abe trades in the warrior’s spirit for a philosopher’s soul.
President Lincoln, as played by the venerable Daniel Day-Lewis, is shown to be a man of great contrasts and a complex personality. He has skin as hard as rock, but a soul as sweet as sugar. The entire movie takes place over the course of roughly a month, following the story of the Republicans’ (under the leadership of Lincoln) attempts to ratify the 13th Amendment, and the Democrats’ fervent battle to block it. The movie does an excellent job of balancing historical accuracy with attempting to appeal to audience members who lack a love of history.
It is not a movie for those with a short attention span, as it does tend to drag a bit at the beginning and is slow to get the ball really rolling. However, once it does start rolling, the boulder of momentum quickly becomes an avalanche of drama and emotion. Anybody with an eye for cinematic detail with instantly fall in love with this movie.
One of this movie’s greatest strengths is in its dialogue. It successfully manages to insert humorous moments without losing its dramatic tension. Between Lincoln’s love of injecting stories and Thaddeus Stevens’ (played by the eternally grumpy Tommy Lee Jones) talent for eloquent (and often insulting) prose, this film is a playground for anyone with a fascination with words. Some of the humorous bits will admittedly go over the heads of those without a love of literature, but it will tickle the very marrow of the funny bones of those who can appreciate verbal illustrations.
The film reveals Lincoln’s patchwork genius. With a love of history and a wealth of knowledge about literature, he holds a powerful stance amongst his fellow politicians, both physically and intellectually. The very real strain of the war, on both the field and in the House, is etched into his very brow. He walks as if the burden of Atlas himself is on his shoulders, which it might as well be. He struggles between a desire for peace and a moral obligation to obliterate slavery from the fields of the nation. His stubborn drive and occasional bending of the rules brings him into conflict with his own Cabinet, most notably Secretary of State William H. Seward, but in the end his sheer force of personality inevitably brings them to his side.
Some may have qualms with this movie’s lack of total historical accuracy, but this is to be expected. It is as close to a modern, theatrical movie can get to following the course of history, whilst being entertaining for those without respect for the past.
This movie stands above others as a theatrical experience. With bold linguistics and sweeping gestures, it is a surefire winner for any nomination it goes up for. It is highly recommended for any historical nerd worth their salt. Besides, it has Tommy Lee Jones in it. What’s not to love? Daniel Day Lewis is a perfect fit for the ruggedly intellectual profile of Lincoln. He seems to have been born for the part. For even more entertainment, after it comes out on DVD, watch it with “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (or Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies if that’s your preference) for a glorious clash in style and tone.