Lincoln does more than place a man or an era under a looking glass to reveal its surface. The story captures what textbooks often shirk, the grit and the tempestuous controversy that perched itself in the White House and made the latter part of 1865 a challenge and a war of its own, political rather than physical, but no less visceral in its casualty of character.
Rather than thrust the archetypal images of history onto the screen carelessly and with little contemplation of context, the tale actually puts a window onto the inner intricacies of Lincoln’s presidency for the camera to peer into in order to snag a fistful of truth that has been notably missing from other films. Shown from the first stormy moments to the last is the human element of Lincoln, a man and not a grand political machination, a father and not just a commander-in-chief, a fighter and not a senseless warmonger.
The two characters most closely nestled into Lincoln’s life in the film are his distraught wife Mary Todd (Sally Field) and his sly, unabashedly blunt political assistant Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones). Somehow Lincoln’s heavy shoulders manage to buttress the burden of a wife’s broken spirit, a colleague’s demands, and a country’s torn soil. He never falters in his resolve to carry Amendment Thirteen to daylight, even when the frailties of his circumstance turn inward and violent at every step.
Powerful acting coupled with an intensely emotive yet human look at one of the most divisive chapters in the turbid American storybook make for an experience all it’s own. The film is not Lincoln. Lincoln is the film.