November 23, 2012

Lincoln -- A Movie Review



After a fine Thanksgiving dinner, AW, my brother, Marco, and I went to see Spielberg's new movie, Lincoln.  We all enjoyed it very much. I knew I would enjoy it, but I was glad my wife and brother did too.

I have been doing a lot of research on the Civil War lately, so I felt like I was watching old friends on the screen. This was especially true since the actors look uncannily like their real-life counterparts. The make-up and costumes were absolutely stunning.  Daniel Day-Lewis really looked like Lincoln. Even the other actors playing cabinet members were clearly identifiable, especially Seward, Stanton and Wells. Of course the latter two had very distinctive beards so they were easier to get right.

This is an important movie in several aspects. First, it will serve as an excellent history and civics lesson for all that see it. It shows how slavery was the key issue in the war. While not everyone in the north supported abolition of slavery, the balance of power between slave states and non-slave states was the issue that led to the war. The scene where Alexander Stevens, the Confederate vice president, asks Lincoln if the rebelling states could surrender and be admitted back to the Union in time so they could have the chance to oppose ratification of the 13th amendment was a key point to me in the movie.  To drive the point home, the script has Stevens go on to explain how the South will be economically devastated by the end of slavery. I doubt that he actually said that to Lincoln. I suspect that was there for the modern viewer's benefit in case they forgot.

(In this same scene I was disappointed that the movie omitted the exchange between Hunter and Lincoln, where Hunter said, "even Charles I entered into agreements with rebels in arms against his government during the English Civil War.  "I do not profess to be posted in History," replied Lincoln. "All I distinctly recollect about the case of Charles I, is, that he lost his head." )

Secondly, it demonstrates how even a greatly revered President has to sometimes gets his hands dirty in  leading the country. The exchange between Pennsylvanian Thaddeus Stevens, the Chairman of the  House Ways and Means Committee,  and the president illustrates the point.  T. Stevens argues for unswerving dedication to the moral compass that points toward “True North.” Lincoln counters that this is all well and good, except when your moral compass takes you into a swamp. Your True North doesn’t matter much then. You’re stuck in the swamp." I don't know if this is an actual Lincoln quote, but it is very apropos.

One of the reasons I find the Civil War fascinating is that it shows to me that little has changed in Washington and how this country gets things done over the past 150 years. People sometimes say that the nation is divided now as political passions heat up. But it is hard to envision the country more divided than during the 1860s. Movies like this can help calibrate the significance of issues that divide our political scene now.

As you can tell, I really enjoyed this movie. But, there were a few disappointments.

First,  as this is a model railroad blog, I am sad to report that there was no scene in the movie showing period railroads. The only train I could detect in the movie was a panning shot of one of Tad's toys, a wooden locomotive.

However, the steamship River Queen gets several key scenes. They appear to have built a full sized prop depicting the ship, so they might as well have used it. Some of the street scenes in Washington were well done. The scenes depicting the burning of Richmond were brief and not explained.Perhaps it was an allegory for the overall end of the Confederacy. But, I think the film missed a great opportunity when it failed to include a scene showing Lincoln visiting the burned city after the Union Army occupied it and the freed slaves' response as he moved about.

Instead there is a scene where Lincoln rides through the trenches of Petersburg. It was way over the top and unrealistic, as was the initial battle scene allegedly depicting the Battle of Jenkins Ferry.  As historically accurate battle scenes both get a D-. The real story of Jenkins Ferry is even more tragic.

I think the early scene where Lincoln talks with some soldiers far fetched, almost dream-like. It was a clumsy way to set the stage even though it included the Gettysburg Address.

I also found Sally Field as Mary Lincoln a poor choice. She did a good job acting the part, but she is literally too old for the role. Mary Lincoln was nearly 20 years younger than Sally. Even Hollywood make-up couldn't bridge that gap. I think her mental anguish would have been even more compelling if they had cast a younger actress.

Although he appears very briefly, I thought the actor they picked for Robert E. Lee was too heavy even though his face looked very much like Lee. Jared Harris on the other hand was a dead ringer for Grant. I liked how the movie showed the close and trusting relationship between Grant and Lincoln, and Seward and Lincoln.

Overall, I believe it is a must-see movie for all Americans and any others that wish to understand the civil war and our government better.

Mom turns the dining room into a sewing factory

My mom wanted to see the movie, but like me, she can get obsessed with projects. So she stayed home to  finish the drapes and bunting for the road show.  They are almost ready. We'll post more about them later.




3 comments:

  1. Nice review. You gave a lot of good detail. I haven't seen it myself yet and have been holding off. I am a great fan of Lincoln, but also a fan of the south. I'm a Virginian and my family had three members serving in the Army of Northern Virginia. One was in a hospital in Richmond when the city fell and another surrendered with Lee at Appomattox. I am always keenly interested that the complexities of the war be shown.

    Thanks again for an interesting review.

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  2. Hello,

    Another very interesting comment. Bravo.
    I take the opportunity to announce that I selected this blog for the Liebster Blog Award.

    http://westerntrainnscale.blogspot.be/2012/11/liebster-blog-awards-mes-choix.html

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