Through the movie camera lens darkly, Steven Spielberg transforms the 21st Century to the 19th Century through film. None of us alive today can relate to that time when a person would step outside and it was very, very dark. Street lights barely covered the sidewalk nearest the light pole. Inside it was gas lights, kerosene lamps, and candles. In 1865, homes were heated, almost without exception, by Ben Franklin stoves and fireplaces which dotted nearly every room.
So there’s Daniel Day-Lewis as Mr. Lincoln, stooped, loving a good story, and just as worried about his small son’s play activity (that would be Tad Lincoln) as he was trying to carve out an amendment to the Constitution that would free all men, regardless of color, forever and ever.
The intrigue that went into this jumps out at you as if you were trapped in a bad dream … Republicans fighting Republicans, those who wanted to free the slaves were called radicals. And Democrats in that Congress, a Civil War Congress, were considered not much better than an old, cur dog that would sleep near your carriage on the side of the road. It was a political scrambled egg (I think this movie should be shown to every school-age child in America).
It would seem to me it was a 200-year-old mirror being held up to today’s Congress. Of course, there are more congressional members now, but they haven’t gotten an iota smarter than they were in 1865. In fact, the 1865 political scramble finally got something important done and these congressmen today are a bunch of idiots.
This movie has been so well cast that whoever was responsible for the selection should receive an Oscar. But I don’t think they give one for that.
Daniel Day-Lewis has given us the most accurate look at Abraham Lincoln since before his death … his stooped walk, his poking the fireplace, his wearing a shawl in rooms that were obviously rather cold in 1865. By now, you have probably heard that once Daniel Day-Lewis found the voice he thought was close to Mr. Lincoln’s, he would speak in that voice on and off camera.
Sally Field was magnificent as Mary Todd Lincoln. She was feisty, poking her nose into all businesses of a president, and sometimes being a virtual nag. And all the time being somebody you could see was loved by the president.
I suppose, for me, perhaps the biggest surprise was Tommy Lee Jones, who played the radical congressman from Pennsylvania, Thaddeus Stevens. Stevens was a radical of all radicals in this storyline. Of course, that’s how he was in real life. I suspect the golden Oscar will be waiting in line to be grasped by many in this cast. And if Steven Spielberg does not win an Oscar, there’s no intelligence left in Hollywood.
It leads me to something my old radio friend, B.T., said after the movie … “Ronn, make sure you tell everyone as you write about this, America needs more adult movies like this one.”
Good writing, good directing, and a great film. Folks, if you only see one movie this year, see “Lincoln.”
Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on Tribstar.com, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.