By Christie Hudon
November 16, 2012
Christie Hudon is a freelance writer and editor. She also teaches creative writing to middle school students. You can view her blog Quillbook at wordpress.com.
Biopics are a hot ticket in Hollywood, especially under the helm of esteemed producer/directors like Spielberg and his skilled crew of regulars. But if you’re expecting a sweeping bio-epic as the trailers suggest (or something along the lines of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter), you may be misled. Lincoln is a biography and is quite epic (as in awesome), but the film is a tantalizing vignette of only the last year of Honest Abe’s life.
Amidst the backdrop of the last days of the Civil War, Lincoln brings you quickly into the confidence of Abe and his political intrigues. It is a divisive time in the country (sound familiar?) and the debate rages in Washington over the institution of the 13th Amendment that will free slaves permanently. For most of the film, this is the conflict; not the stump speeches he used to gain the campaign, not the Gettysburg address as he faces the families of countless victims of the war. It is monotonous, political and wordy but somehow fascinating.
It’s hard to not notice how good Daniel Day Lewis is as Lincoln from the first five minutes. As his Abe becomes familiar and you hear not the deep baritone you expect, but a vulnerable tenor voice, you can almost swear you’re watching a documentary from some time machine. Documents proved that Lincoln was a higher-pitcher crooner when it came to speech-making and Lewis worked on this from the onset of pre-production. Tommy Lee Jones plays his typical crotchety old coot character in an endearing way and Sally Field is indomitable as Lady Lincoln. It’s a bit odd that Mad Men's Jared Harris plays Ulysses S. Grant but hey, it works. Just try not to picture Mad Eye Moody.
Lincoln does what your typical historical biography doesn’t; it makes you interested in the minutest political details of our nation. Perhaps it’s not that surprising that things were just as ugly, if not worse back in the day. What is refreshing is the candor at which representatives expressed their views. As viewers, we look back through the fog of history to witness Lincoln’s cabinet and the fury that went on between abolitionists and those against freeing slaves. I kept thinking I would get bored during long-winded speeches but somehow I leaned in closer to hear those rapid intellectual duels.
Lincoln gives an intense portrait of a man history has painted in stereotypical perfection in our minds. Watch this film and be freed from the image of a boring, long-bearded, saintly president who held our nation together. This Lincoln is fiery to the last but also humble and inspiring thanks to the clarity and pain-staking detail of the film. It accomplishes what so many politically charged media shows have failed to do lately: make you accept and cherish America for all its mistakes and triumphs.