It’s only natural, I know, but for the past two weeks I could not meet, talk to or email anyone without the inevitable question being asked, “Have you seen the Lincoln movie?” And every time my response — sometimes embarrassed, sometimes meek — was, “Not yet.”
I know, I know: it’s odd that I’m a Lincoln scholar and I did not run out and see perhaps the greatest movie ever made on Lincoln the minute it hit theaters. Unfortunately, time, work and family conspired against me. But, just as powerful a reason for my delay was my fear that this supposedly masterful movie would turn out to be irritating, ignorant junk.
I find historical movies and historical fiction difficult to get through if I know the topic intimately because I know the facts. I understand that fiction and Hollywood need to change things around for a good story, a good conflict, a good character, etc., but they also often change things out of ignorance, and, well, just because they can. And I can’t abide that.
So. After studying Abraham Lincoln, his family, his life, his presidential administration for nearly 20 years now, what’s my take on the movie “Lincoln”?
It was pretty spectacular.
First and foremost, Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal of Abraham Lincoln was uncanny, mesmerizing, stunning. He looked like him, he talked like him — and yes Lincoln did have such a high-pitched voice — and he even walked flat-footed the way we know that Lincoln did. But more than that, Lewis imbued Lincoln, he channeled him, he was the president. The stoop-shouldered way the weight of the war bent him down; the way he weaved humorous stories and anecdotes into his conversations and nobody laughed louder than him at his own jokes; the way the small miracle of sunlight on his face was a simple reprieve and enjoyment from the cares of office. These were incredible.