It is has been said that the motion picture industry created an American West of the second half of the 19th century that never was, but always will be. The same could be said about the myth of Abraham Lincoln, who has been transformed by multitudes of books, novels, movies, articles, textbooks, and selective historical accounts into the greatest politician, and maybe even greatest personality, America has ever produced. There's even the absurd spectacle of a recent movie in which Lincoln is our champion against vampires.
While Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln has no such supernatural forces to fight, the movie will certainly add to the heroic status already afforded the 16th president. The movie focuses on the last four months of Lincoln’s life, with nearly all the movie centered in January 1865, with the push for approving of the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery) by the House of Representatives at the end of that month. The Senate had given its approval the previous year.
As expected with a Steven Spielberg movie, as an art form, it is first-rate. The acting is superb, with Daniel Day-Lewis performing masterfully as Lincoln, even down to the whiney voice, more historically accurate than the booming and deep voice previous cinematic versions have used. Sally Field turns in a fine performance as Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, who clearly suffered from mental illness. Field’s portrayal gives us sympathy for both Mary Todd and the husband who had to contend with her deep depressions, magnified by the death of their son, Willie.
As expected, Tommy Lee Jones is masterful in the role of the self-righteous abolitionist, Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania. Of course, Jones appears to be Hollywood’s premier actor in roles requiring arrogance and sanctimony.
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