11/16/2012 06:27 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Popcorn Preview: Lincoln


Film: Lincoln (2012)
Cast includes: Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood), Sally Field (Mrs. Doubtfire), David Strathairn (Good Night and Good Luck), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises), James Spader (Boston Legal), Hal Holbrook (Men of Honor), Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black), John Hawkes (The Sessions)
Director: Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan)
Screenwriter: Tony Kushner (Munich)
Genre: Drama | History (149 minutes)
Based on Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

The bloody Civil War has tested the nation's endurance, but the tide is finally turning. Although the secession of the Southern states may have started the war, President Lincoln now sees that it will not truly be over unless slavery is abolished. Since a constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds majority vote, getting it passed will mean nothing short of all-out war in Congress. There's a core of support, but many in Lincoln's own party are lukewarm, and they still need to win votes from some Democrats. The rhetoric is strong on all sides, "Congress must never declare equal those whom God has made unequal!" Having failed a year earlier to abolish slavery, many think it's foolish to invest more political capital in trying again. "Time is a great thickener of things," says Lincoln. What the country really wants is peace. But Lincoln is determined, "Blood's been spilt to afford us this moment. Now. Now. Now."

Based on a portion of Team of Rivals, by presidential historian Doris Kerns Goodwin, the movie is a well-documented telling of the passage of the 13th Amendment. It wasn't pretty! There was arm-twisting, bargaining, cajoling and issues of questionable morality as the president attempted to get Congress to do the right thing. One of the most significant aspects of this movie is that it portrays Lincoln as those around him saw him, before he became the Lincoln of legend. While he was a gifted speechwriter, he wasn't a gifted speechmaker. His voice was thin and reedy. His stories and jokes often seemed out of place in the nation's capitol. We tend to forget he was, above all, an accomplished politician, leaving no stone unturned for a vote. We prefer to think of our heroes as being above all that.

Spielberg decided to sacrifice entertainment value for historical accuracy. Getting the votes to abolish slavery was tedious business, and the movie shows us that. There's very little action, and a lot of talking -- much of which will seem unfamiliar. The Tony Kushner-written screenplay relies heavily on the common word usage of the day. Daniel Day-Lewis spent a year studying Lincoln in order to give us an accurate portrayal. And he truly is amazing, after we get used to the stooped walk and the unimpressive voice. It's a film that's hard to fully absorb in a single viewing. There are many important individuals that are hard to keep straight at first. But that said, it's an important film about an important turning point in U.S. history. What it lacks in action and romance, it makes up for in historical significance. In hindsight, emancipation seems like a no-brainer, but it certainly didn't seem that way in 1865. "What will follow? Getting the vote for women?"

4 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
An accurate portrayal of Lincoln as the politician who won passage of the 13th Amendment.

Popcorn Profile
Rated: PG-13
Audience: Teens to grown-ups
Distribution: Mainstream wide release
Mood: Neutral
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: High-end production
Character Development: Engaging
Language: Artful
Social Significance: Informative & Thought provoking

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You may want to read about other historic-based movies:

Enemy at the Gate


The Winslow Boy

Charlie Wilson's War