I feel blessed that I’ve had the good fortune of recently seeing films that I believe will be nomination for an Oscar. To date, I can suggest that Argo and Flight will be on that list — and maybe Skyfall, Dark Night, and Avengers, too. After yesterday, I will add Lincoln to that list of films and acting surely worthy of consideration by the Academy.
As I’ve stated before in my blog, we Christians are a people who love a good story. Jesus talked in parables and the Old Testament is full of great stories of triumph and certainly, tragedy. Whether to escape our current life situation, reinforce our faith or just simply to enjoy being drawn into the machinations of others, stories show us that even though our lives posses a narrative, the narrative of others might be far more interesting or, at least, distracting.
I’m always drawn to historical drama — especially that of our connected American heritage. Lincoln does not disappoint. From the opening moments when the President is talking with soldiers to the final scene of his inauguration, I was completely taken back to my studies of American history. While the film is a “talkie,” with lots of dialogue important to the narrative, it was quite good at holding my attention and helping me recall the politicians that these actors were portraying.
The film is a heart-wrenching story of the personal grief of the Lincoln family and the chaotic and far-reaching arguments of slavery — interwoven with the national exhaustion of the civil war. Daniel Day-Lewis is in the lead role and he gives a masterful performance as the story-telling Lincoln, driven to see that the slavery argument that was responsible for the war wouldn’t ever again be a part of the national discourse.
All of the actors, which include Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, Sally Field, Tim Blake Nelson and many others, are well-suited for their roles. They give marvelous performances. While Day-Lewis is the lead in this epic, it really is an ensemble film, with so many historical figures laid bare for us to see in the light of that days politics.
It doesn’t take long for one’s mind to take many of the political arguments and view them in the light of current political drama. It seemed, to me, much hasn’t changed with the House of Representatives . . . except they use less harsh language these days. If you go and see this film longing for a simpler time, when gentlemen reigned and principles were steadfastly followed in Washington, you will get a clear view of how ungentlemanly and unprincipled politics can be. But, in the end, the goal of the death of slavery and and an indirect end to the war are achieved through the President’s folksy, demanding, embarrassing, frustrated and open demeanor. This film is a story of unflinching truth and leadership that is surely relevant to today. Our current politicians would do well to listen to the story the President tells about a compass and due north.
In almost every moment of the film, the script shows how this great man used story to change a nation — showing how the President tells stories to reinforce his points, to put his challengers off-balance, and to lighten horrible moments when the gravest things are happening. There is a great moment when the cabinet and others are awaiting news of a desperate battle and just as they are about to get news, the President launches into one of his stories. His Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton (played by Bruce McGill) leaves the room exclaiming that he “can’t listen to one more of his stories.” In the very next moment, as all are waiting to hear the words read from the teletype, the two men, Lincoln and Stanton, hold hands as they wait to hear the news of the battle. It is laughable and poignant — all in the same moment.
Other than a few curse words and some graphic depictions of war violence, this is a drama that older children and adults must see. As Steven Spielberg has done so often before with Saving Private Ryan and Shindler’s List, he has shown us that history needn’t be a documentary nor a lecture that is easily forgotten — but seen as drama that had impact on real lives and in real ways. An excellent film can teach through story and this one definitely does.