(WACH) - January was a trying month for a President of a country torn in two, trying to pass an amendment destined to change the fabric of our history, and Steven Speilberg takes you straight to the heart of the rotunda.
As 1865 began, no one knew Abraham Lincoln had only four months left to live, and in that time he would fulfill his destiny to permanently and positively change our nation. Most people were under the assumption that the Civil War would soon be over, and the fight over the freedoms offered by the Emancipation Proclaimation was on between members of The House of Representatives and the second term President, who wanted the matter settled before the war came to an end.
Much of the movie takes place on the House floor with both sides delivering rousing arguments, but none so much as the poetic rantings of Radical Republican Congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens, played brilliantly by Tommy Lee Jones. Whig or no whig, this is the guy you want to sit beside near the hearth enjoying a fine grog and discussing the morals of mankind, or lack thereof.
A fantastic performance by the ever subtle James Spader as William Bilbo, a former Confederate from Tennessee who had been imprisoned but ultimatly lobbied for the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. His ties with Secretary of State William Seward, portrayed elegantly by David Strathairn, plus a presidential pardon likely prompted the change of heart. Hal Holbrook had a small but pivotal role as republican founder Francis Preston Blair, and Jackie Earle Haley took his licks as the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stevens.
If history was on Capitol Hill, then the heart of Lincoln was back at the White House. Daniel Day-Lewis is haunting as the 16th President of the United States of America. One cannot help but gaze at this gentle giant of a man who, in many ways, had the weight of the world on his shoulders. His love of storytelling hinted to his sense of rightness and just causes, and each word seems to be a gift of wisdom that mysteriously befell upon this humble lawyer from Illinois. Even his silent, slow, lumbering walk down a White House hallway at night makes you feel hushed, and honored to be in the room. The kindness with which he treats his feeble youngest son and emotionally fragile Mary Todd Lincoln played by the incomparable Sally Field, gives one a glimpse into his heart, but the more distant relationship with his older son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) reveals the humanity of an imperfect being.
The film winds down with a mere nod to the surrender of General Lee to General Ulysses S. Grant, then the final scenes take you to the Fords Theatre and the Peterson House across the street, where the President was pronounced dead at 7:22 AM on April 15, 1865.
If you're interested in learning more, a visit to the website will allow you access to great commentary by Speilberg as well as some videos of the making of the film and historical facts. There's also a great interview with Daniel Day-Lewis and Oprah, as well as some compelling suggested reading material.
"With Malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds" ~ President Abraham Lincoln