Honest ‘Lincoln’ opens a doorway into history

Courtesy PhotoCommander-in-chief: Daniel Day-Lewis gives a commanding performance as the 16th president in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner of “Angels in America” fame wrote the new movie “Lincoln,” filling roughly 145 of its 149 minutes with dialogue.

In four scenes, maybe, characters are actually doing, rather than saying, something.

Yet Steven Spielberg, one of America's best directors, makes the movie come alive; watching it is like eavesdropping on history.

#link_box { width: 150px; height: auto; margin: 0; padding: 0; margin: 10px 20px 10px 0px; padding: 10px; background-color: #fbfade; /* ecru – light yellow */ border: 1px solid #343a25; /* green – for summer arts */ float: left; font-family: arial, sans serif; font-size: 11px; } #link_box img, #link_box a { border 0px; border-style: none; outline: none; } #link_box h1 { margin: 0; padding: 5px; border-bottom: 1px solid #ddd; text-transform: none; color: #8A0808; font-family: arial, sans serif; font-weight: bold; font-size: 12px; text-align: center; } #link_box h2 { margin: 0; padding: 5px; border-bottom: 1px solid #ddd; text-transform: none; color: #000; font-family: arial, sans serif; font-weight: bold; font-size: 10px; text-align: center; } #link_box ul { list-style: none; margin: 0; padding: 0; border: none; } #link_box li { margin: 0px padding: 0px; border-bottom: 1px solid #ddd; border-bottom-width: 1px; } #link_box li a { display: block; padding: 5px 5px 5px 15px; /* Padding for bullet */ /* border-bottom: 1px solid #ddd; border-bottom-width: 1px; */ color: #000; width: 100%; width: auto; /* height: auto; */ /* border: 1px solid blue; */ margin: 0px; font-family: arial, sans serif; font-size: 11px; line-height: 14px; text-decoration: none; } #link_box li a: before { /* background-position: top left; */ } #link_box li a:hover { background-color: #ddd; color: #000; }

“Lincoln” isn't a full-life biopic about the 16th president. It focuses on the months between January 1865 and April 1865 at the beginning of Abraham Lincoln’s second term in office, when he is determined to pass the 13th amendment of the Constitution, which would abolish slavery (and thereby end the bloody Civil War between the Union and the Confederacy).

Like an episode of “The West Wing,” but more concentrated and detailed, the movie also introduces a colorful gallery of supporting players, who calculate how to get the vote passed and target potential swing voters with whatever deals (or threats) they can manage. These actions give “Lincoln” movement.

At the center is Lincoln, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, who gives the kind of command performance (often involving heavy research and heavy makeup) that wins awards. Day-Lewis expertly balances confidence, pain and weariness, creating a well-rounded human character.

Better still, Spielberg and his crew craft a realistic, impure, unkempt world filled with cigar smoke, scattered papers and empty teacups, with light coming only from fireplaces and windows. Characters seem as though they have never looked in the mirror; their hair is uneven and clothes are rumpled.

If President Woodrow Wilson once described the 1915 film “The Birth of a Nation” as “writing history with lightning,” in “Lincoln,” Spielberg does away with lightning and simply opens a door.

Even though viewers know the outcome, watching the politics play out in “Lincoln” is addictive: passion and logic clash, until, somehow, there’s a positive result.

As Thaddeus Stevens, the representative from Pennsylvania, Tommy Lee Jones has perhaps the showiest — and, occasionally, funniest — role. His speechifying about equality makes it sound legally enticing, if not exactly politically correct.

Perhaps the best part of “Lincoln” is that Kushner and Spielberg show human foibles rather than resorting to hero worship. A less wordy screenplay might have made complex issues too simple. As it stands, “Lincoln” is a rare, intelligent, adult work.

Abraham LincolnartsentertainmentMoviesSteven Spielberg

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Asian American youth report anger, sadness and fear over surge in racist behavior

Survey finds about 80 percent experienced bullying or verbal harassment

Court prevents Trump administration from blocking WeChat pending hearing

Late Saturday night, a federal judge in San Francisco issued a preliminary… Continue reading

California’s troubled unemployment agency needs immediate overhaul, report says

By Patrick McGreevy Los Angeles Times California’s antiquated unemployment benefits system requires… Continue reading

In Brown Type: New survey finds engagement and trend to progressivism among Asian American voters

The 2016 election and ‘Trump effect’ have fired up the voting bloc

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, liberal giant of the Supreme Court, dies

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who championed women’s rights — first as a… Continue reading

Most Read