And it's good, really good. Daniel Day-Lewis is, of course, brilliant and disappears in the role of Lincoln. I'd call him a lock for an Oscar but then I remember Joaquin Phoenix in THE MASTER and I'm torn. In any case, Daniel Day-Lewis creates an Abraham Lincoln who is full of good humor and illustrative stories (even echoes of Jesus' fondness for parables), and equal parts courage, righteousness, wisdom, and guile. It's that guile--the political machinations that contort the conscience all in effort of the greater good--that's the backbone of the story. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
It's a well written, engaging story. It eschews the 'whole life arc' that bogs down too many biopics, instead focusing on arguably the most important month of Lincoln's career. That would be January of 1865, just after his re-election, as he tries to push the 13th amendment (you know, that anti-slavery one) through a bitter, divided, and partisan House of Representatives.
Throwing the audience in the middle of this with not context might be a bit jarring with other figures, but I think it's safe to assume that pretty much everyone who sees this movie knows who Lincoln was and knows that America fought a civil war over slavery. I.e., it's not really without context, it just trusts the audience to bring the context into the theater with them and figures (rightly) that spoon-feeding the audience would be more insulting than enlightening. As such, I'm curious how it plays overseas to audiences who don't know as much about Lincoln and the American Civil War (how much is generally known about Lincoln in other countries?)
It also challenges the oft-told story that the Civil War had more to do with states' rights than slavery. It even obliquely mentions the Lincoln quote that "If I could save the union without freeing any slave I would do it...." (the film mentions he had said it three years earlier, and his position was much more firm as The Great Emancipator now.) In fact, it makes the compelling case that Lincoln could have negotiated a peace in January (instead of the surrender at Appomattox in April, after yet another "spring massacre") but to do so would have scuttled his attempts at getting the 13th amendment ratified. Perhaps to many it was a fight over the principle of states' rights, but to the commander-in-chief, at least by the end of the war (and according to this film), it was a fight over slavery.
All that and I haven't even mentioned my favorite character yet. Tommy Lee Jones as Congressman and fierce proponent of racial equality Thaddeus Stevens. He is the north star of the story's moral compass, while Lincoln is the crafty navigator who knows how to avoid the swamps and canyons in the treacherous path north. His 'I don't hold to equality in all things, only equality under the law' speech is easily my favorite part of the movie. Starting as a craven betrayal of his lofty principles for political expediency, he turns it into a venomous mocking dismissal of his opponents. Absolutely freakin' awesome! And for someone who really knew nothing about him before seeing the film, the big reveal at the end was...well, sweet. He seems a complicated, colorful, and fascinating character. Another movie could be made just about him.
Running Time: 150 minutes
My Total Minutes: 304,535