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September 2014


| Reel World


During his presidency, Abraham Lincoln fought more battles than many Civil War soldiers.

There were the many political battles in which he was embroiled, one of the biggest being his fight to enact the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.

But while Lincoln was leading the nation through its most critical times, he also was a husband and father, fighting to keep his sometimes unstable wife on steady footing, helping to raise his young son Tad and providing guidance for his oldest son, Robert.

"Lincoln," the latest film about our 16th president, directed by Steven Spielberg, fleshes out all aspects of the man. The film is influenced by the book "Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

The film avoids the typical, elaborate Hollywood epic treatment - soaring music, overly dramatic speeches, overdrawn, bloody battle scenes. Like Lincoln himself, the film is measured and understated. It lets the audiences see how Lincoln suffered - and reveled - in all his roles: president, husband, father. It tells the big story through well-selected details. The horror of war, for instance, is shown when Lincoln's son, Robert, follows a man pushing a covered cart that is dripping blood outside an infirmary. When the man comes to a stop, he removes the cover to reveal that the cart is full of human limbs, which he deposits in a pit.

Daniel Day-Lewis has the unenviable task of portraying Lincoln, the subject of many previous movies. Yet no one, perhaps, has portrayed the man with more humanity than Day-Lewis. When Lincoln gently lifts his son Tad, who has fallen asleep in front of a blazing fire playing with toy soldiers, and carries him off to bed, there is a gentleness and sweetness that reaches audiences at an emotional level without any theatrical tricks.

In another scene Lincoln tries to console Mary, who was prone to fits of anguish, after she learns that Robert has joined the Union soldiers. The president's exasperation is palpable as he pleads with her, "You, Mary, must lighten this burden or render it intolerable."

The crux of the film is Lincoln and his team, led by Secretary of State William Seward (David Straithairn), as they use every political trick in the book, and perhaps some that aren't, to gain a two-thirds majority of the House to pass the monumental 13th Amendment.

Lincoln's cohorts, and Lincoln himself, visit congressmen and cajole, promise and even threaten to get their votes. The movie exposes how ugly politics can be in order to achieve something good. It also shows just how savvy Lincoln was, even when he may have seemed obtuse.

Throughout the battle to pass the landmark amendment Lincoln's penchant for telling stories is evident. One cabinet member remarks in the midst of a heated discussion, "I can't bear another story."

But it is Day-Lewis's portrayal of Lincoln, with all his warts, that gives this film its humanness. Not to be forgotten is a wonderful supporting cast (led by Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones as Lincoln's political ally ) who give Day-Lewis a solid canvas to paint the perfectly imperfect president.

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