Film Review- Lincoln | The Salvation Army

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Film Review- Lincoln

Steven Spielberg's acclaimed historical drama.
Poster of the ffilm Lincoln
Posted January 29, 2013

The accolades are already coming in for Lincoln. And justifiably so.

This is an outstanding movie, with a sublimely talented ensemble cast.

Daniel Day-Lewis’ inhabitation of US President Abraham Lincoln rightly gained him this year’s Best Actor Oscar. His performance is superb. Day-Lewis communicates the old school, softly spoken gentlemanliness of a true statesman. He perfectly depicts the humanity of a man captured by the truth that ‘all men are created equal’ in a screenplay that reveals Lincoln’s abilities as a sublime strategist.

There’s no doubt that Lincoln required the wisdom of Solomon. The bloody and divisive civil war is in its fourth year, with increasing violence between the slave-loving South and the free North. Two months after Lincoln’s re-election, he chooses—despite strong protests—to invest his popularity to seek freedom for the slaves. ‘Why tarnish your lustre?’ Lincoln is asked. But this is a man who regards freedom to the oppressed as far more worthy than his own popularity. He is, by his own admission, possessed by a strong moral urge for fairness.

Lincoln has emancipated the slaves to serve the North’s war effort and is haunted by the fear that they might be returned to slavery when peace comes. He must now balance the urgent need to end the country’s bloodshed against the impetus the war is giving the abolitionist cause. In this, his strength as a master tactician becomes clear. At times, Lincoln plays the power card, but he also has the common touch, coming alongside people and sharing stories that lift their sight to a better way.

For the US House of Representatives to pass the 13th Amendment that would abolish slavery, the Republican Lincoln must garner support from among the factions of his own party. Even more difficult, he must also persuade Democrats to vote across party lines. This is the heart of the conflict that plays out on screen—giving plenty of opportunity for impassioned speeches, back room lobbying and soul searching by all players.

While Day-Lewis is outstanding, he does not outshine the rest of the cast. Everyone pulls their weight here, with wonderful performances from Sally Field (Mary Todd Lincoln), David Strathairn (Secretary of State and Lincoln’s close friend) and James Spader (a most amusing Republican lobbyist). Tommy Lee Jones makes a memorable outing as radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens, who is even more determined to see slavery abolished than the president.

Lincoln shows the everyday impact of the different attitudes that existed toward slavery in 1865, reminding modern audiences that the idea of equality—of freed slaves, mixed marriages and giving Negroes the vote—was once unthinkable. Too many people sincerely believed that ‘to set free four million coloured people ’would manacle the whites’. Regrettably—as still happens today—the Bible was used like a weapon by both sides to justify their views.

In President Lincoln, we see a man who personified Jesus’ instruction to his followers (in Matthew 10:16), ‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.’ Lincoln read the times and saw its opportunities. He had a strong moral vision, understood the obstacles before him, and realised there would be a price to pay for freedom. But he was prepared to pay that price in the pursuit of justice.

Despite the solid historical setting, 1860s America is not so unlike our own times. It is a modern tragedy that around the world, millions of people are still trapped in slavery and involuntary servitude (see We still need to learn from the history lesson that is Lincoln.

Review by Christina Tyson

Director: Steven Spielberg
Genre: Historical drama
Rating: M (Violence & offensive language)
Duration: 2 hours 30 mins 

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