Lincoln ***½/4 – a movie review by James Berardinelli

February 7, 2013 by James Berardinelli - Reelviews
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One of the many, many smart decisions made by director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner when developing Lincoln was not to make it a traditional bio-pic of the 16th U.S. president.

Instead, they confined the main story to a one-month period: January 1865, when it could be argued that Abraham Lincoln won his greatest victory. The movie could as easily (and accurately) have been titled The Battle for the 13th Amendment. Spielberg shows no need to dramatize Lincoln’s life as a series of “greatest hits.” The Gettsyburg Address and Emancipation Proclamation are both referenced but neither is depicted. The assassination occurs off-screen. However, by showing the private and public struggle to both free the slaves and end the war, Lincoln paints a powerful and compelling portrait of the man who has become an icon. We don’t need to see more of his life to understand how rare a figure he was – this window is more than sufficient.

Lincoln is rightfully credited with saving the Union. He is regarded as an idealist and opportunist who accomplished what no other president before him attempted. We read about him in history books and come away with the impression that he was a great man without perhaps recognizing all the elements that contributed to his greatness. Lincoln shows us an intelligent, folksy person whose greatest assets are his conscience and his ability to play the game of politics as well as any man. Frequently underestimated by his opponents, he outwits and outmaneuvers more seasoned veterans and comes away with a win that alters the course of history. In between the maneuvers, he takes time offer parables and tell stories (like the one about Ethan Allen and the privy). If you’re not entirely sure why Lincoln is universally regarded as one of the greatest U.S. presidents going into this movie, you’ll have no doubts by the time it’s over.

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