There are plenty of historical movies out there -- and most could learn from Lincoln about how to narrow their focus and make their subject gripping.

Lincoln begins after Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) has been re-elected President and is about to start his second term.  The Civil War rages on, though there are signs that the South may be ready for peace.  However, Lincoln's main focus seems to be on passing the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution -- which would abolish slavery.  Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) wants to wait for passage until later in the President's term, when the House of Representatives won't be so closely split between Lincoln's Republicans and the bitterly-opposed Democrats.  Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) wants the amendment, but he may scare potential supporters by suggesting that "blacks" will then be given the right to vote, work as free men, and even (gasp!) have interracial marriages.  Even Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field) fears that the amendment may both tarnish Lincoln's popularity and extend the Civil War; and she fears their son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Leavitt) will become a soldier and get killed.

Lincoln is a movie about a man navigating between two separate, monumental events simultaneously: ending the Civil War and passing the thirteenth amendment.  The political maneuverings are intense, as every single vote could make the difference and political operative W.N. Bilbo (James Spader) uses everything from appointments to bribery to swing Democrats over to supporting the amentment -- or at least voting absent.  At the same time, the war is on everyone's mind, weighing on them with the cost in American lives and the potential for more bloodshed if the amendment passes.  There always seen to be African-American people around, mostly servants or soldiers, awaiting their fate without having a say in it.  And through it all, Abraham Lincoln wanders, often telling jokes and long stories but always determined to do what he feels history and America demand of him.

Lincoln is an amazing film.  The performance of Daniel Day-Lewis is extraordinary, making Abraham Lincoln a man struggling to maintain and impose his convictions even while surrpunded by perils and doubters.  The rest of the cast is also exceptional, notably Tommy Lee Jones as the idealist whose very passion may hurt his cause but who also knows his way around politics.  This movie is adapted from the book Team of Rivals, and the focus on this pivotal part of Lincoln's life keeps the film from being a padded biopic and rather focuses the audience on the one time of tension when politics and war seemed to conspire against the President.  Director Steven Spielberg combines drama and comedy equally well, getting very human and passionate performances from the cast. Lincoln is a riveting, thoughtful, and thoroughly engrossing movie.

Overall grade: A+
Reviewed by James Lynch

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