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Lincoln (Blu-ray Review)

5 Apr, 2013 By: John Latchem

Box Office $182.03 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 BD/DVD, $45.99 BD/DVD/Digital
Rated ‘PG-13’ for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language.
Stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, David
Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal
Holbrook, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson, Jared Harris, Lee Pace, Michael Stuhlbarg, Gloria Reuben.

The legend of Abraham Lincoln has become so ingrained in our national culture that it’s easy to overlook the story of Lincoln the man, a president burdened with the task of preserving the union at cost to his family and the nation at large. Somehow, Steven Spielberg’s excellent Lincoln is able to find the dividing line between the two, given us a portrait of an individual whose place in history is secured by his principles, compassion and foresight.

Based in part on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals, the film covers the final days of the Civil War in 1865, contrasting the battles in the field with those in the halls of Congress to pass the 13th Amendment to ban slavery once and for all in the United States. Doing so, it is argued, would rob the Confederacy of its motivation to continue the fighting. But there is also urgency in the sense that ending the war before its ratification would dissolve any desire to pass it, lest hordes of freed slaves flood the northern states in search of jobs.

Daniel Day-Lewis so perfectly embodies Lincoln in his Oscar-winning performance that we are captivated every time he speaks to the issue, and we instantly understand his drive to do what’s right, even when it means skirting conventional interpretations of the Constitution. While showing just the final few months of Lincoln’s life, Day-Lewis’ portrayal encapsulates many of Lincoln’s best-known traits, from his knack for storytelling to quieter moments of family intimacy, giving us a fuller sense of who he was beyond what might be gleaned from something like Disneyland’s “Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln.”

While this is Day-Lewis’ show, the rest of the cast is excellent as well, particularly David Strathairn as William Seward, secretary of state and Lincoln’s chief political advisor. To maneuver support for the bill behind the scenes, he hires a trio of political operatives, effectively played by James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson, to trade jobs for votes from lame duck congressional Democrats. At the same time, Lincoln must appease dissenters in his own party, particularly Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones). To see Jones and Day-Lewis on screen together is to witness a contrast in styles; Day-Lewis transforms himself into Lincoln, while the film’s Stevens is easily recognizable as a typical gruff Jones character, yet they play off each other well.

Those wondering if the home video would address the main controversy surrounding the film, that it played fast and loose with the historic votes for and against the amendment, should note that the scenes have not been altered to reflect historical accuracy, as some had been calling for. Given the dramatic impact of the lengthy voting scene, and the sheer number of votes portrayed, it seems odd that such dramatic license was even deemed necessary.

The bonus material offers a solid look at the making of the film, though you have to pick up the deluxe Blu-ray with the bonus disc to get everything. It’s worth it.

The lighter Blu-ray edition includes just two featurettes totaling less than 13 minutes: “The Journey to Lincoln,” about finding the ideal story upon which to base the film, and “A Historic Tapestry: Richmond, Virginia,” about using the city to re-create locations from 150 years ago. (The DVD edition includes just the “Journey” featurette.)

The four featurettes on the bonus disc total about 65 minutes and really flesh out the effort that went into re-creating Lincoln, Congress and the time period. “In the Company of Character” focuses on Day-Lewis’ acting process. “Crafting the Past” examines the creation of the sets, costumes and makeup. “Living With Lincoln” offers a behind-the-scenes extension of “Journey to Lincoln.”

Finally, “In Lincoln’s Footsteps” deals with how the desire to present Lincoln with the proper respect and gravitas affected some of the technical aspects of the film. The editing was very deliberate, allowing the camera to stay focused on Lincoln’s words to capture the attention of those listening. Sound designer Ben Burtt recorded sounds from clocks, watches, cannons and church bells that Lincoln would have heard in his day, all to add authenticity. And John Williams, while flirting with the idea of using only period music, ultimately crafted an original score worthy of the nobility of Lincoln’s efforts.

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