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Lincoln (2012) Movie Review

November 18, 2012

When I first heard about “Lincoln” being made, the only thing I knew was that it was directed by Steven Spielberg and the music would be composed by John Williams. In most instances, this is enough to get me interested in a movie. When a movie is about a person as great as Abraham Lincoln, it is easy to wonder what parts of his life will be the focus. Many people are pretty well acquainted with his life in general. Not only did I learn a lot about him in school, but I read the book “Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter,” that was essentially his biography with a few minor changes. (The movie version is mostly flash and cuts out all the historical parts).

“Lincoln” begins at the start of Abraham Lincoln’s second term while the civil war is in full swing and Abraham Lincoln is fighting to pass the 13th Amendment, which would ultimately ban slavery. Because of this specific focus, the film is very much centered around the politics in the House of Representatives. In the movie, the Senate has already received the 2/3 majority necessary in support of the amendment, so the House of Representatives is the last holdout.

As part of the historically accurate portrayal of the House, we are treated with some highly intellectual dialog. The writing in “Lincoln” is head and shoulders above anything you see in modern films. Some of the speeches can be difficult to follow if you aren’t familiar with the intricacies of the law but you should be able to understand the central points regardless.

It shouldn’t surprise many viewers to see that the politics presented in the film are just as polarized as they are today. At times I couldn’t help but laugh at the parallels when various members of the House called Abraham Lincoln a tyrant for overstepping the boundaries of the executive branch much like modern day Republicans accuse President Obama of doing. Regardless, “Lincoln” is one of the few films that can manage to make something as boring as counting the votes in the House dramatic even when the outcome is already known.

John Williams wrote a deeply somber film score for Lincoln that is often driven by solo trumpet, signifying how much of a burden Lincoln has to take on his own shoulders despite all the support he has. The score takes on a zany feel when certain underground lobbyists are out looking for ways to buy the votes of Democrats. The music is more subdued than is typical for a score from John Williams, but it fits each scene perfectly and knows when it is not needed.

“Lincoln” is not a movie for everyone and to some may seem overly long because of all the things it tries to pack into two and a half hours. If you are a constitutional law nerd or obsessed with quality prose, you will find little nuggets that keep you excited throughout the film. For everyone else, as long as you are interested in a historical look at the Amendment process, you will find “Lincoln” to be eye-opening to say the least.

I found it particularly fitting that “Lincoln” came out just as the country is fighting over the issue of whether we should recognize same-sex marriage. It served as a good reminder that even many of the greatest achievements we have made in this country towards true equality for all were not particularly popular at the time. Still, it is always worthwhile to take the time to recognize the contributions of the brave men and women who believed in equality and justice enough that they would vote for something as unpopular as abolishing slavery.

“Lincoln” is a triumph because of the starkly realistic look it gives into the process at the time, even if it isn’t exciting in many of the traditional ways we expect from a modern film. Still, it manages to challenge the intellect in ways that respect the audience’s understanding. It will give you cause to reflect on all the great accomplishments we have had in this country over the last 200+ years. Without great leaders such as Abraham Lincoln in the past, we wouldn’t be where we are as a nation.

4.5/5

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From → Drama, Historical

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