Abraham Lincoln is one of the most celebrated and revered people of all time, and as the 16th President of the United States, he dealt with the daunting task of leading a nation divided in ideals, and divided in war. Similarly dealt with the daunting task of bringing this story to life was acclaimed director Steven Spielberg, who volunteered to bring Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” to the silver screen. Delving deeper into how the movie “Lincoln” came to fruition, the DVD has a special feature titled “The Journey to Lincoln” which explains the intricacies of how this brilliant film came together.
The bonus feature includes interviews with Spielberg, Goodwin, producer Kathleen Kennedy, production designer Rick Carter, screenwriter Tony Kushner, actor Tommy Lee Jones and lead actor Daniel Day-Lewis, who portrays Lincoln in the film. “The Journey to Lincoln” gives insight into why the movie is focused on the civil war and the Thirteenth Amendment including a rough draft of Kushner’s 550-page screenplay that was chopped down to about 70 pages. The 10 minute long feature is well paced and well edited with a score underneath the interviews, and clips of the movie throughout. Spielberg shares a story of how he visited the Lincoln Memorial as a child and how immense and powerful he thought the figure was, yet he felt safe as he stood next to it. That memory stuck with Spielberg and it should come as no surprise that he reserved the right to film the movie in 2001, and hence “The Journey to Lincoln” began.
The movie “Lincoln” seemed destined for greatness from the beginning with two-time Academy Award winner for “Best Director” Steven Spielberg at the helm, and got a bigger push in the right direction in 2010 when two-time Academy Award winner for “Best Actor in a Leading Role” Daniel Day-Lewis was cast to play Lincoln. Since the release of the film, “Lincoln” was nominated for seven Golden Globe awards and 12 Academy Awards with Day-Lewis winning the Golden Globe for “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama” and the Oscar for “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” for an unprecedented third time. Along with its critical acclaim, “Lincoln” was also met with mass fan support, garnering over $181 million domestically and over $260 million worldwide at the box office. The film was a success due to its well thought out plot, the actors who carried it, and because it was about the American hero, Lincoln.
The film begins with the only battle scene in Jenkins’ Ferry, Arkansas. The scene focuses on the racial undertones of the Civil War as the soldiers fight in hand-to-hand combat in a short yet powerful scene set up by shot pacing and imagery. The battle scene transitions into two African American soldiers talking to Lincoln about the future. One of the soldiers questions Lincoln on the rights of the African American soldiers and their positioning within the American military. Lincoln does not get offended as you might think he would, but simply hears out the soldier and then shows a sense of humour in joking with them, which sets the tone for his character throughout the film.
Lincoln was a complex man who had to be the leader of a nation and the head of a household. As a leader, Lincoln always seems to think before he speaks, and most of all, listen to what the people around him have to say. Day-Lewis shows this in many of his monologues by looking pensively toward the ground, and by taking pauses between sentences to pace his words, which made each one seem of importance. Due to amendment and the war, Lincoln spent more time with his cabinet than he did his wife Mary (Sally Field), and when they are together, they argue over a possible cessation to the war instead of passing the amendment. The reason they argue is because Mary does not want her son Robert (Joseph Gordon Levitt) to enlist in the Civil war because their oldest son William was lost to the war. Field and Day-Lewis are captivating in this scene as he shares his inner grief that he must hide for the sake of the nation. Day-Lewis shows the audience his emotional range as he goes from pensive, to angry as he berates his wife for not being stronger. Field breaks down, incapable of hiding her grief and her illness saying, “Lock me away! You’ll have to, I swear, if Robert is killed.” This scene alone was enough for Field to be nominated for an Oscar as she displays immense passion and anger in this scene toward Day-Lewis. Day-Lewis also shows a softer side of Lincoln anytime he is with his youngest son Tad. Lincoln always made time for Tad, and filled the parenting void left by Mary. During the vote on the Thirteenth Amendment, Lincoln was not anxiously awaiting the results of the vote, yet sitting with his son Tad. Day-Lewis was able to express warmth in Lincoln that made you believe that when he and Tad were together, that it was the only time he was at ease. The complexity and depth of Lincoln is the most captivating part of the film, and the eloquence that Day-Lewis captures his character with, keeps the viewer entranced throughout the film.
The film takes place over the last four months of Lincoln’s life where he pushed hard to put through the Thirteenth Amendment, but it was a tough choice. Lincoln could try to push the amendment through, knowing that it had already been rejected once, or he could try and settle peace with the Confederate Army. Lincoln was worried of what would happen to African Americans if he made peace with the army. He believed all were created equal and quoted Euclid when he said, “Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.” Lincoln’s views never wavered and slavery was abolished because he thought that if we are all human beings and equal, then we are equal if we are black or white.
Lincoln has the difficult task of keeping everyone around him happy, whether it is the Democrats whose vote he is trying to procure, his own cabinet who is not happy with his decision to push the amendment through, or his own family who does not want to lose anymore. All of the pressure keeps Lincoln up at night staring at his watch (Lincoln’s real watch was used in the film) and this ages him visually as the movie progresses. Watching Lincoln age physically was an interesting way to show that the stress was getting to him, and as the plot moved along, he showed less patience toward people. At the beginning he would listen to voters’ and his wife’s concerns, but later, would slap his hands upon the table and yell at his cabinet to get him the democratic votes he needed for the amendment.
The death of Lincoln in the film was very well handled, and not the spectacle that it could have been. People will often remember Lincoln for being assassinated inside Ford’s Theatre. However, this film chose to show Lincoln’s son Tad reacting to the news of his father’s death. Tad’s reaction is heartbreaking to watch, and shows how the news affected the nation, and how it affected the Lincoln family. The way the filmmakers handled Lincoln’s death in the movie did not overshadow the man they portrayed him to be throughout the film, making the movie more about his successes of abolishing slavery and being a man of the people rather than a President who was assassinated, which should be how we view it in reality.
“Lincoln” was a well-paced drama that took a deeper look at Abraham Lincoln and the process of abolishing slavery. The starring roles and ensemble cast were the catalysts to making this movie as real as we could have imagined, and helped lead to the film’s immense success. Director Steven Spielberg gave us a different side to look at the leader and the challenges he was faced with as a husband, father and leader of a nation, while trying to accomplish passing a bill that would change the world.
The Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack for “Lincoln” gives the viewer an in-depth look down the road to making the film and the choices that the filmmakers made to make “Lincoln” as historically accurate as possible. The bonus features give context to an extraordinary film and make the DVD a must own for your collection. “Lincoln” is in stores now.
I give Lincoln an 8.5 out of 10.
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