December 31, 2012

Review: Lincoln

One of the best things I've seen in the last year was Ken Burns' excellent Civil War documentary, but I was always fascinated as to the way all of the combatants referred to each major battle as, simply, "a fight".

Which is why the opening scene of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln is so effective: it is, essentially, a fist fight between hundreds of Confederate soldiers and Black Union soldiers in the middle of a muddy, blood-soaked field.

More than anything else, I was moved by the intimacy of this film.

 The war wasn't masses of nameless, faceless regiments moving along a chess board. It was a back breaking street fight to the death, fought among millions.  The debate in the congress over these lofty issues like personhood and citizenship immediately descends into a raucous shouting match full of insults and clever name-calling.  Average citizens come to the office hours of The President of the United States to settle a land dispute.

I was also particularly impressed by the rawness of the politics.  For something so lofty and noble as the abolition of slavery, Lincoln and his cohorts employed every conceivable trick in the book - brides, coercion, misdirection.  I'm reminded of a line from "The Kingdom of Heaven": "maybe one day you'll do a little evil to do a great good."

Reminder, again, that all politics are not just local.  They're personal.

I have some issues with the end of the film.  Frankly, I think the last five minutes are totally unnecessary and hurt the tone and style of the film.  But it's still exquisite.

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