Why I Didn’t Like “Lincoln”

So I’d heard all about “Lincoln,” and how great the movie was, but when I saw it over the weekend, I was snorely disappointed.

Viewer Beware, 1: It’s tediously long. I struggled to stay awake, my 20-year-old son dozed off, and even my wife, who said she liked the movie, crashed before the ending.

Viewer Beware, 2: It’s misnamed. The title should be “Lincoln and the Passage of the 13th Amendment.” Unless you’re fascinated by the legislative process, and unless you’re oddly curious about the obscure Senators who were trying to block the amendment and the lengths to which Lincoln went to get it passed, this movie is not for you. And if you’re expecting a biopic about Lincoln, you’re way out of luck.

Calling the History Department, 1: The film depicts Lincoln as being forever and deeply anti-slavery, which is a distortion, as this quote from 1862 in his letter to Horace Greeley proves:

"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union." Playwright Tony Kushner (whom I usually love) knew about this quote, and has Lincoln obliquely wish it away in the script. Sorry, that’s not kosher, Kushner.

Calling the History Department, 2: Lincoln suffered from depression. It would have served the cause of accuracy and mental-health awareness if Steven Spielberg and Kushner had included this.

Calling the History Department, 3: Where was Frederick Douglass? Lincoln had an important friendship with the great black freedom fighter, an amazing figure unto himself, but there is no Frederick Douglass in this film—and, for that matter, no strong African American who is neither a soldier nor a house servant, with all of them positioned in subservience.

OK, but what about Daniel Day-Lewis?

Even here, I wasn’t blown away. His Lincoln is two-dimensional: either the kind, avuncular storyteller, the loving father, and the indulgent husband (to the excellent Sally Field) or the stern, I-mean-business chief executive. Day-Lewis oscillates between the two, and it gets sticky and schticky, with Spielberg fawning over Day-Lewis’s gangly gait.

Two stars max.

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “Warnings Pile Up Before Qatar Climate Talks."

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