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A Dignified President and Movie: Brief Review

The best review of Lincoln–meaning the one I’m most in agreement with–is at the Chicago Trib. I know, that’s a real copout; but since I feel unable to do Lincoln justice, I’d just as soon direct readers to a review that does, and only mention the few insights/opinions of my own that aren’t covered in it. There are surprisingly few.

First I have to say, I have a newfound respect for Tony Kushner, who wrote the script and seems to garner praise from critics any time he produces half a page of anything. I’m probably the only person in America who did not enjoy Angels in America. Even more important, I saw Kushner share a stage with Susan Sontag at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco, and if she hadn’t been there I swear I would’ve walked out after the first few minutes. Kushner was tongue-tied, stammering and sputtering in response to every question directed at him until Sontag broke in and took over brilliantly. Afterwards I heard audience members complain that she’d dominated him, but I didn’t see a bully, I saw a merciful rescue mission. He came off as so moronic he reinforced and solidified my opinion of him, as well as of the public who never seemed to notice the emperor had no brains. Now, having written a brilliant script for a nearly flawless movie, Kushner’s redeemed himself in my eyes, at least partly.

The best thing about the movie is, beyond a doubt, Daniel Day Lewis‘s performance–or rather, his channeling of the 16th President. This is no artifice or act, it’s a grok of Abraham Lincoln, as if he’s taken hold of Day-Lewis’s body, and perhaps his soul as well, for a period of time. Day-Lewis has proven himself a superb actor time and again–in My Left Foot and In The Name of the Father, for starters–but as Lincoln he’s outdone himself.

Sally Field is also wonderful; she complements her screen husband and completes the First Couple as totally believable. I kind of wish Field would stop running around radio and television shows repeating the same story over and over of how she had to fight for the part. I found it distracted me from seeing her as Mary Todd, since I kept looking for the weight gain and the age-transforming makeup. Come to think of it, she’s probably telling the story hoping that nobody will think she’s quite that old and fat! Ah, vanity, thy name is Sally! Another star turn worth mentioning is the always captivating Tommy Lee Jones as Senator Thaddeus Stevens, his voice instantly recognizable even when his face isn’t.

Historical dramas always make me hungry for more information. How is it that they teach us American History in every single grade of elementary school, yet we still never get the whole story? (They should just show movies in school!) Time for me to hit the Google research button–or better yet, crack open a book. Lincoln was largely based on Doris Kearns Goodwin‘s Team of Rivals; that’s probably a good place to start.


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