The movie feels like you've been popped into a time machine and taken back to 1864-65, sitting with these characters, or trundling after them through the muddy streets of Washington. The film is dark and gritty, looking just like a Mathew Brady black and white photo. Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s bestselling biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,the movie is about the passage of the 13th Constitutional amendment banning slavery. Before seeing the film, I didn't know all the background and machinations involved. It's something all students should see in order to learn how politics works. Spielberg and Tony Kushner who wrote the screenplay manage to make what could be complicated clear and easy to follow as well as create dramatic, grip-your-seat suspense. The story emanates from Lincoln's understanding that the Emancipation Proclamation was something he got away with because of war powers. He realized that once the war was over and the South had surrendered, there was no way the Emancipation Proclamation would stand. There was too much prejudice and fear on both sides of the aisle. Congress must make a constitutional amendment banning slavery for slaves to be permanently freed. So Lincoln must secure the number of votes needed and he must delay the Confederate peace delegation, with a terrible cost of lives.
I was so impressed with the portrayal of Lincoln as a clever politician with a wonderful dry wit and an appropriate story to defuse any difficult confrontation, but also deeply principled and savvy enough to see the long view, as well as what to do to get his more short-sighted colleagues to go along. Not to mention his more pragmatic cabinet members who get the job done. It was a team effort. It was interesting how contemporary the film was in its portrayal of the other petty, short-sighted politicians whose votes needed to be coddled and bought. Some aspects of human nature are timeless.
The other hero of the story is Thadeus Stevens, the witty and caustic Congressman from Pennsylvania and an ardent abolitionist who compromises his principles at a key point in order to achieve the greater good. Tommy Lee Jones does a fantastic job of conveying his character. And the repartee and name-calling during Congressional hearings, which he excelled at, was quite amusing. Tommy Lee Jones should get a nomination as Best Supporting Actor.
But in the end, it was Lincoln's character that shone through -- a towering, far-sighted man, willing to stand for his principles, someone not afraid to look at the results of his decisions and take responsibility for them, as his tour through the corpse-ridden battlefield showed. The movie is an amazing portrait of a complex, conflicted, and brilliant man.
This was a case where the trailer doesn't begin to tell you how good the movie is. Here it is anyway.
I was worried about going to see Life of Pi because I'd read the book several years ago and doubted that a movie could do it justice. But the film is very true to the book with all its complexity, humor, and musing about the meaning of life. The story is about a writer who has discarded his last book as trash. He meets an Indian man who tells him he knows someone who has a wonderful story to tell, a story that "will make you believe in God." Who could resist that? The writer travels to Canada and convinces the man to tell his story. Pi (his actual name is Piscine Molitor and thereby hangs a tale) grew up in India. His father owns a zoo. Pi is very interested in religion and becomes, through various events, a Buddhist, a Christian, and a Muslim. Economic difficulties force them to sell the zoo and move to Canada. While en route with their animals, the boat sinks and Pi finds himself on a lifeboat floating in the midst of the vast Pacific, with only an orangutan, a zebra with a broken leg, a hyena and a Bengal tiger for company. The story is a detailed account of how he survived. But more than that, it's about facing and subduing your fear, the instinct for survival, the great pulse of life on the planet, God, and illusion. What is real? Is it merely how we choose to perceive it?
Ang Lee directed the movie. Typical of Ang Lee, the cinematography is stunning, and the storytelling clear. The drama comes from the terror and grandeur of the natural world. It was a movie that not only was a visual feast but included much to think about and left one with a good feeling afterwards. Something for the eyes, mind, and spirit.
I imagine both Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee might be up for best director. If they aren't, they should be.