I’ve already written my shorthand review of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, but it’s now out on home media and it’s time to revisit this magnificent film.
I have no religion of my own, but my love and affection for the historical figure of Abraham Lincoln borders on religious devotion. If ever there were someone I would worship it would be the 16th President.
The great accomplishment of Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis here is making me feel that I have personally met the man in the history books and early photographs. Lincoln’s homespun manner, which hid an immense intelligence and unparalleled political savvy, shines through in the film, and though his speech was simple for the time, the words he strung together could have fallen from the lips of a god. Shakespeare in all his striving could never meet the genius of Lincoln cajoling his cabinet, entertaining a lowly private, or arguing with his wife.
The film captures all of it – the way he seemed to have a story for every occasion, his high, sometimes reedy voice (borne out by historical accounts), the way he was hunched over, carrying the weight of all the blood spilled on Civil War battlefields, his flat-footed step, as if there were a fear God might realize he’d made some mistake in allowing a figure so grand as Lincoln to set foot on this unworthy earth and snatch him back to heaven.
And who can deny how Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field put their indelible imprints on the story? The scene of Jones’ Thaddeus Stevens browbeating his hapless Democratic colleague alone is worth the price of admission. Field’s Mary Todd Lincoln also illustrates how his wife surely was as much of what made Lincoln a great man as his own righteousness and humility.
John Williams’ score, intimate and grand but always longing to soar with its echoes of Aaron Copland, seems to soften the emotional blow that surely comes at the end of any telling of Abraham Lincoln’s story. Williams has never written so sweet and touching a score as this one. It is an adagio for the end of an age, a requiem for the closing of one chapter of America and a gentle prelude for the beginning of another.
If there is any complaint I could make, as if I had the nerve to tell Spielberg how to make a movie, it would be this: I would have ended with Lincoln leaving the White House to go to the theater, and faded into his second inaugural speech to close the film. The scenes of the announcement that the president had been shot, and the moment of his passing, seemed unnecessary, almost tacked on like an afterthought. But perhaps that is because Lincoln’s death, even though it happened a century before I was born, cuts me as if it were a personal loss, and perhaps in my mind that is the moment in which I want to turn away. Surely, I would want to be left with the lingering image of a tired, exhausted president walking down the hallway, never to return home, because I already feel the loss in my heart and don’t need to see it with my eyes.
Abraham Lincoln was too great for his time, but so necessary for it.
Spielberg’s Lincoln captures all of that for me, and that’s why it’s now one of my favorite films of all time.