Even before the Oscar nominations were announced, we went to see LINCOLN. Whether or not the movie was nominated was of less import than seeing one of the consummate actors of our time—Daniel Day Lewis—at his craft. Only, we didn’t see Daniel Day Lewis. Instead we saw a reincarnation of Lincoln—the long wearied looks as the weight of the Civil War grinding on weighs on him; the flex of his jaw as he endures the in-fighting within his cabinet; the twinkle in his eye as he recalls an anecdote that may—or may not—have bearing on a situation before him.
There are wonderful little bon mots sprinkled throughout the highly literate screenplay. In one scene, Lincoln wanders into the communications area where two young men sit, waiting to send and receive Morse code messages. Seemingly disconnected from all the action surrounding the scene, and even to some extent the whole movie, Lincoln launches into a rumination of Euclid’s First Common Notion (Things which equal the same thing also equal one another.) He muses about having been reading Euclid and cites the First Common Notion. He draws no explicit conclusions. But to the viewer, a clear foundation is laid down that in deed and fact “all men are created equal.”
The fulcrum of the movie is the fight to get the 16th amendment passed. And quite a messy fight it is. It is both heartening and disheartening to see how contemporary that fight seems. Update the players, the setting and you could easily see the event as something occurring in our time.
When the Academy Award nominees were announced, it was no surprise at all to see how many nominations LINCOLN garnered—deservedly so in my view. In addition to Daniel Day Lewis’ powerful incarnation as Lincoln, Sally Fields is cast as Mary Todd Lincoln—a role she plays with a convincing blend of tartness, pathos and touch of insanity. Tommy Lee Jones is Senator Thaddeus Stevens who eventually had to bend his unbending principles to accomplish something great.
Finally, kudos go to Stephen Spielberg for directing this movie, and to Tony Kushner for pulling out of the myriad of historical accounts a coherent narrative that is the screenplay.
If you have time to see just ONE of the nominated movies, make it LINCOLN.