LINCOLN (2012)
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

Juneteenth (officially Juneteenth National Independence Day) is our newest Federal holiday. It commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans.

President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, but that freed only slaves in states still in rebellion. On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston to enforce that Proclamation, and this is seen as the end of slavery. However, until the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified by the required twenty-seven states on December 6, 1865 (Georgia being the last of these), slavery was still legal in Delaware and Kentucky.

(The last states to ratify the amendment were Delaware (1901), Kentucky (1976), and Mississippi (ratified 1995, but not until 2013 was the US Archivist officially notified).)

In celebration of Juneteenth, here are some observations about the film LINCOLN, which focuses on the passing of the 13th Amendment by Congress.

Capsule: In LINCOLN, with very interesting release timing and with considerable historical accuracy, Stephen Spielberg tells the history of the two great conflicting goals Abraham Lincoln had toward the end of the Civil War. He wanted both to free the slaves and to end the fighting. Spielberg does not simplify the issues. Much of the film is talk. He respects his audience's intelligence enough to tell the complex story and maintain a great deal of historical accuracy. The film even looks very authentic to the period. The viewer may have to work hard to catch all that is happening, but the task is worth the effort. This is a film for an intelligent audience.

It is impressive to see so many art house actors playing even in small roles in this film.

At the beginning, there is an implication is that soldiers--black and white--had memorized the Gettysburg Address. This is probably not likely.

Lincoln easily slips into the middle of a joke, making it his joke, and then returning to the topic. These jokes and Lincoln's humorous analogies are a distraction and a slyly used tool. However, not all of Lincoln's humor strikes the modern viewer as hilarious. But there is no lack of modern humor as the abolitionist's President's agents search out Congressmen who would vote against Lincoln and try to change their minds.

Mary Todd Lincoln's self-promotions of her own interests make her seem more of a liability to her husband than an asset. She might be interesting enough if she had her own film, but in this film she seems merely to interrupt the main story. (On the other hand, maybe the idea is that Lincoln has more than just the 13th Amendment to deal with.)

This is Daniel Day-Lewis's second-to-final film and a role for which he will probably be remembered well. His voice, however, is not as high-pitched as Lincoln's was reported to be.

The military use of the telegraph and its use in general is the highlight of the civil war rarely discussed in film.

Even though Spielberg and his audience know the political result of these issues, Spielberg manages to create real suspense as to the outcome. Spielberg's talent covers many types of films, and many styles. Here he colors his photography with a darkness of film noir.

The scenes of the aftermath of the war are drawn out. They may be historically correct, but they do little to advance the story of the film. (There is, however, a slight trick placed on the viewer in them.) Perhaps it would have been better for the film to have ended either with Lincoln walking away from the camera and out the door of the White House, or with the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston (although Lincoln makes it quite clear early in the film why the Emancipation Proclamation is of questionable legality, and uncertain to stay in effect after the end of the war, and hence *why* the 13th Amendment is needed).

Rating: high +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10

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					Mark R. Leeper
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