The Flick Chicks

Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Lincoln | Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Strathairn, James Spader | Review

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4_Chicks_SmallJacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Lincoln | Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Strathairn, James Spader | Review

The title does NOT say it all, although it names a key character in director Steven Spielberg’s 149 minute history lesson about how the 13th amendment to the Constitution came about.  That would be the Emancipation Proclamation, considered one of the 16th president’s greatest accomplishments during his final months in office.

Events take place during the last 3 ½ months of Lincoln’s (Daniel Day Lewis) life in which the crucial vote to ratify the amendment occurs.  A countdown supplied by date subtitles provides a sense of urgency - something you won’t get from the first 45 minutes of exposition via closed door meetings, strategy sessions, and wheeling and dealing.  The political climate is urgent; the action, or lack of it, can become tedious.

Still, the glimpse into another era via the cinematic time machine that good research and big budgets can provide makes this a worthwhile view.  Occasional Civil War battles and White House interiors, including a presidential party, share the screen and you’ll get to know Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field) more than you ever have.  Secretary of State William Seward, (David Strathairn) too.

Spielberg displays the icon but allows the stereotypes to dissolve and the man to emerge.
Lincoln’s relationship with his sons Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Tad (Gulliver McGrath) gives us a glimpse into the family dynamics, as does the occasional intimacy with his very emotional wife.

Small details offer insight.  Lincoln, almost bowed down by the warring philosophies of “a house divided” assists his wife with her corset, although there is no relief for his own discomfort.  The peaceful man slaps a dissenting son.  His voice is in a higher register than you’d imagine and may take some getting used to – but it’s historically accurate.

For added irony, Republicans are the movers and shakers of the time and Democrats are the obstructionists.

Dazzling in his down-home persona of the Commander-in Chief is two-time Academy Award® Daniel Day Lewis, who inhabits the body of Lincoln with his very spirit it seems.  The affable, wise, and able to lash out in anger Lincoln is both recognizable and a silent enigma at the same time.  Lanky, booted and top-hat bedecked, Lewis casts a tall shadow in Lincoln’s shoes, mesmerizing in every scene.

Sally Field brings a relatable angst to the First Lady, making her more sympathetic than the hysterical shrew of historical legend.  Her Mary Todd Lincoln is truly the woman behind the man, explaining her behavior to her husband, herself and to the viewer, providing unexpected revelations on that front.

Other fine performances include John Hawkes as Colonel Robert Latham, James Spader as lobbyist WN Bilbo and Tommy Lee Jones as U.S. Representative Thaddeus Stevens.  Jones has a pivotal speech; Spader provides comic relief.  Hawkes proves once again that his range is as vast as his talent in portraying wildly disparate characters.

Although one of the film’s first scenes depicts a partial recitation of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address quoted to him by two young Union soldiers (one Black, one White) which comes across as contrived and faux-reverential, Lincoln is devoid of the usual Spielberg syrup.  The film is straightforward more than stylized, which means it’s a lot like attending a series of meetings with an occasional pile of amputated limbs thrown in (literally) to remind you that there’s a war going on.

The screenplay is by Tony Kushner (Munich, Angels in America), based in part on the book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by biographer/historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Lincoln the man may have been tall, but this tale isn’t.  That is both its charm and its challenge.

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