The Motor City Reviewer pays us a visit.
The fundamental concern of Lincoln is the passage of the 13th Amendment, and Lincoln’s struggles to make that passage happen in the House of Representatives. There is great drama in the floor-fights and speeches which led to the 13th Amendment’s adoption on January 31, 1865. David Strathairn, who deserves a Best Supporting Oscar for his depiction of William Seward, conducts the back-room deal cutting necessary to assemble the requisite two-thirds majority, seconded by Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens. The bad guys appear in the form of George Hunt Pendleton (the disappointed Democratic nominee for vice-president in 1864) and Fernando Wood, the sleazy New York Democrat. Happily, when the final vote is taken, the bad guys lose.
Another plot line to the movie is a peace plan brewing with the South. On the recommendation of General Grant, Lincoln sets up a meeting with the peace commissioners. He hopes to keep this under wraps, so as not to feed the Democrats’ campaign against the amendment, even to the point of concealing it from Seward. But the word leaks out all the same, and Lincoln escapes a debacle over the vote for the amendment only by issuing a written assurance that there are no Confederate commissioners in Washington. (They were not, of course, in Washington, but cooling their heels at Hampton Roads, where Lincoln would shortly meet with them, but no one in the Democratic caucus seems to have caught on to Lincoln’s lawyer-like evasion).
The movie delights in the rough-and-tumble of American politics. In an age when so many people complain about gridlock, lobbying, campaign money, and inefficiency, Lincoln embraces all of them, and good comes out of it. It is a movie of confidence – confidence in politics, confidence in a very skilled yet principled politician, confidence in the self-created mazes of our representative democracy. Daniel Day-Lewis’s Lincoln, haggard but smiling, tormented and yet fundamentally serene in his knowledge of doing right, carries the movie with the help of the excellent supporting cast.