November 21, 2012

“A Sacred Effort”

Lincoln is not perfect. But it ascribes majesty where it belongs and cites American democracy as a noble experiment.

By Mark Tooley

The new movie Lincoln was appropriately timed for release in time for Thanksgiving, which President Lincoln declared a national holiday. And this week is the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. There’s much to thank God for in the accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln, including his aggressive push for the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, on which the movie focuses. Daniel Day-Lewis is superb as Lincoln, possibly the best Lincoln portrayal ever, or at least since Raymond Massey.

Unlike Robert Redford’s somewhat ridiculous movie The Conspirator last year, which tried to exonerate Lincoln assassination conspirator Mary Surratt, Steven Spielberg’s recreation of Civil War era Washington is good. The movie actually filmed in Richmond and Petersburg. The very dome-less Virginia Capitol was electronically morphed into the U.S. Capitol. One scene ostensibly showing incendiary radical Republican Congressman Thaddeus Stevens inside the U.S. Capitol actually shows the famous 1788 statue of George Washington inside the Virginia Capitol. Otherwise, most of the Victorian interiors, especially in the White House, seem right. I’m not sure, but the purported U.S. House of Representatives chamber may actually be the restored old Illinois statehouse. I don’t think the current U.S. House chamber, built in the 1850s, ever had windows, and in the movie, sunshine flows in during key debates.

All the performances are competent. But members of Lincoln’s cabinet, except for Secretary of State William Seward, get short shrift, despite the movie’s sourcing from Doris Godwin’s cabinet-focused Team of Rivals. Although now too old, Gene Hackman at some point in his career should have portrayed the impatient, severe, and indispensable War Secretary Edwin Stanton, whose petulant appearance here is too short. Aged Hal Holbrook is suitable as political patriarch Francis Preston Blair, ensconced in his still today famous house across the street from the White House. Sally Field as First Lady Mary Todd captures Mrs. Lincoln’s intelligent humanity and impending derangement.

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