The 150th anniversary of the Civil War seems especially appropriate for the release of Steven Spielberg's motion picture, "Lincoln." Although some historians question various aspects of the film, it certainly is a reminder of the great sacrifices made by our forefathers.
In addition, it offers a window into the contemporary Congressional stalemate over the federal budget.
The timeframe for the story is January through April 1865.
The opening scene depicts a bloody battle that transitions to President Abraham Lincoln visiting with African American soldiers in a Union military camp.
The scene changes to the Lincoln family's living quarters at the White House. A nightmare has awakened the president and his wife. Mary is recovering from a carriage accident, which she believes to be a failed assassination attempt.
Her remarks serve to foreshadow the tragic event to come.
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Runtime: 149 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense scenes of war violence, brief strong language, some images of carnage.
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones, Lee Pace, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Costabile, Jackie Earle Haley, S. Epatha Merkerson, Jared Harris, Walton Goggins, Gulliver McGrath, Peter McRobbie, Gloria Reuben, John Hawkes.
Daniel Day Lewis and Sally Field are convincingly cast as the first couple. They have lost their youngest son, Willie, and desperately want their oldest, Robert, to stay in classes at Harvard and out of the war.
At home, they still have young Tad, who likes to dress in a military uniform. The film paints the president as a doting father to Tad.
Lincoln's relationship with Mary seems intimate and respectful but not very warm. In public, she reminds congressmen of her husband's popularity. Privately, she pressures her husband to do more to end slavery permanently. The Emancipation Proclamation has been in existence for two years, but it needs to become a binding law.
The Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery has been drafted and passed in the U.S. Senate. The movie has numerous scenes of the fierce debate in the House of Representatives, whose members are divided along party lines.
Tommy Lee Jones, as the abolitionist Rep. Thaddeus Stevens, delivers a strong performance with blunt speeches in favor of the amendment and insults for its opponents. The lame ducks about to leave office just want to make a decision and put it behind them.
Lincoln directs Secretary of State William Seward to promise government jobs to outgoing representatives in exchange for affirmative votes. The president also pressures other cabinet members to help get the amendment passed.
"I am the president of the United States, clothed with great power. You will procure me these votes," he declares.
In those days before Secret Service protection and electronic communication, Lincoln throws a reception and pays personal visits to congressmen to discern their objections to the amendment.
Fear of the future is their main concern. How would the slaves be brought into the workforce? What rights would they have? Would it prolong the war?
The president urges the legislators to "see the here and now" and take action to end the indignity of slavery while the opportunity exists. He believes it is the right thing to do, with or without an end to the war.
As the political deadlock continues, the Civil War rages on. There is a gruesome scene in which Lincoln visits a military hospital. Robert remains outside and witnesses amputated limbs being buried nearby.
Lincoln privately sends Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook) to military officials in the South in an effort to negotiate peace.
At the same time, the president meets with General Ulysses Grant to plan an attack on Fort Fisher and Richmond in hopes of ending the war. When the South refuses to surrender, Grant carries out the plan.
The surrender at Appomattox is dramatized with a white horse carrying the defeated Gen. Robert E. Lee and Union soldiers removing their hats.
Grant tells the president, "We have won the war. Now you have to lead us out of it."
The assassination ends the film, but Spielberg does not recreate the shooting. Rather, he shows Tad hearing the news at another performance and a shaken Mary rushing to her husband's side.
The words of Lincoln's second inaugural address can be heard just before the credits roll: "With malice toward none ..."
This reporter is not a history buff, but "Lincoln" presents the 16th president in a more personal light than the history books can, sharing homespun stories and exuding a deep regard for freedom and equality.
Accurate or not, Americans need to see the film to get a sense of the complexities of that period in U.S. history and to appreciate what Lincoln was able to accomplish against great odds.
Moviegoers can take note of the beautiful period dresses and jewelry, the men's wigs and waistcoats and the sets with gas lights and telegraph stations.
John Williams' original sound track is mournful and dignified in the right places. This is a motion picture that inspires and educates viewers while entertaining them. I am anxious to see how it fares for awards.
For me, nonfiction is more compelling than fiction or fantasy. The tense scenes from the House floor mirror those from modern-day sessions. I could not help but wonder if President Barack Obama could ever gain the level of respect and cooperation Lincoln enjoyed.
If nothing else, "Lincoln" can inspire audiences to appreciate those who have gone before us, and to stay informed on the events shaping our nation now.
With the recent school tragedy, Hurricane Sandy's devastation, soldiers dealing with PTSD, and disturbing local events, Americans need to put aside differences and support one another.
A-T Lifestyles Reporter MaryAnn Kromer can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.