Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Cure for Slavery

 #moviereview #Lincoln

Since 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, it is no wonder films set against the backdrop of slavery are at the multiplex.  Where Quentin Tarantino’s raucous slave revenge fantasy Django Unchained was all sturm and drang, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a stoic and nuanced affair steeped in detail.  Taking place in the last four months of Abraham Lincoln’s life in 1865 and in the wake of his re-election, it chronicles his efforts to have Congress pass the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution which abolished slavery.  As embodied by Daniel Day-Lewis and working from  a script by Tony Kushner, Lincoln comes across as a thoughtful tactician, navigating an unpopular war and an obstinate Congress.  While the movie looks to the past, the film is terribly relevant in modern times as we watch Lincoln and his political allies engage in varied levels of political wrangling to garner the 20 votes needed to get the amendment passed.  At the end, I could appreciate the man and the task he had at hand.  He had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, but he wasn’t convinced that it was legal or would be upheld by the courts, plus, it was only a temporary war measure.  A constitutional amendment seemed to be the only permanent means to abolish slavery.  As a lawyer, I could appreciate Lincoln’s way of thinking.  As a politician, he delegated the ground work to more outsized personalities.  Tommy Lee Jones plays the bombastic abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens who used his Congressional prestige to influence others; David Strathairn plays Secretary of State William Seward a confidante and sounding board; and John Hawkes and James Spader play a shady set of lobbyists who actually do the dirty work of obtaining votes in exchange for offers of patronage. Interspersed with the political intrigue are glimpses of Lincoln’s personal life--his doting relationship with his youngest son Tad, his relationship with his wife Mary Todd (Sally Field) who is heartbroken over their son Willie’s death, and his relationship with his eldest son Robert who wants to enlist despite his parents’ reluctance.  I found Lincoln to be a meticulous and well-crafted film at every level.

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