Watching historical films never seems to end well for me. By the end of the film, there have been too many history faux pas for me to still take it seriously. So when the Steven Spielberg film Lincolnwas released, I was hesitant to go see it. However, this historical drama surprised me not only by its accuracy, but also by its incredible actors and success at making Abraham Lincoln interesting to my tech-based generation.
Lincoln stars British actor Daniel Day-Lewis, who was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for his work in this film. And, he has certainly earned both. Supposedly, Day-Lewis researched Lincoln’s mannerisms and personality extensively to prepare for this movie, even going so far as to change his voice and gait. The transformation is remarkable. Day-Lewis absolutely looks the part and acts the part, and it’s very difficult not to be swept away by his performance. Day-Lewis brings one of history’s greatest presidents out of the history books in a way that makes Lincoln feel a little bit more real and relatable.
It’s the performance by Day-Lewis and the directing of Steven Spielberg that makes this film interesting to most of the public, people who know little of Lincoln beyond the fact that he was president during the Civil War and later assassinated. Lincoln, which is partially based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” focuses on a less publicized part of Lincoln’s life: his campaign to pass the 13th Amendment – the one that outlawed slavery. Partly because it covered a new topic to most people, Lincoln appealed to a wider audience and grossed more than $153 million at the domestic box office. This film definitely deserves some credit for trying to educate the masses on the life of a fascinating figure.
Lincoln also deserves some credit for its screenplay. The film plays on one of the traits Abraham Lincoln is fondly remembered for: his storytelling. More than once in the film, Lincoln stops in the middle of an argument to lean back and tell a story that may be humorous or may be more somber. Adding onto these scenes are scenes about Lincoln’s personal life. His wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, is often shown comforting – or enraging – the president. Lincoln’s sons, Robert and Tad, also help to show his more human side.
One of the most disappointing parts of this movie, though, is the ending. After the 13th Amendment finally squeaks through Congress, the movie fast-forwards to two months later to show Lincoln in a meeting with his cabinet. Lincoln is reminded that his wife is outside waiting to escort him to a show at Ford’s Theater. Lincoln dons his gloves, exchanges a few meaningful words with his friends and then wanders off, his towering silhouette disappearing into the night. I hoped the movie would end there, but instead it went on to show Lincoln’s assassination at the theater and his eventual death. The movie ends with his second inaugural address. These last few scenes feel rushed and last minute. The tone of the ending doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. Lincoln would have been perfect if it ended simply with Lincoln walking into the night. I know he’s fatally wounded at Ford’s Theater – you really don’t need to show me that part.
Despite the disappointing ending, Lincoln is the best historical films I’ve ever seen grace the big screen. Most films fall short of educating the audience – or even just being accurate – but Lincoln proved to be both entertaining and informative. At the very least, Lincoln shows the world that Abraham Lincoln was a man and not the godlike figure history has turned him into.