I finally saw Lincoln last night. I doubt what I have is to say is anything others haven’t verbalized. But a couple quick points. As a film, it’s classic Spielberg. Well made entertainment in the broad and often obvious populism of D.W. Griffith and John Ford. Several eye-rolling lines, BIG music. It’s also hard to believe that someone could make a film about the end of slavery in 2012 and neglect to have a single vital African-American character, but it’s Spielberg so there we have it. On the other hand, the film does do a good job on focusing on the political machinations of the 13th Amendment, with generally very good casting, pacing, and editing. Daniel Day-Lewis is always good, David Strathairn seems destined to play Forces for Good through his career but he does it well, Tommie Lee Jones was sufficiently cranky as Thaddeus Stevens. The movie definitely should have finished 20 minutes earlier, with Stevens in bed with his black partner. This would have avoided the pointless march through time to Lincoln’s assassination, though there was something so old-school Fordian about how it ended with Lincoln’s second inaugural address that it was hard not to feel a little warm about it.
What really matters here though is Spielberg’s point about politics. He so obviously wants to give today’s Americans a lesson on how to GET THINGS DONE IN WASHINGTON! So here’s how you do it. First, 35% of the country secedes. Every single one of the politicians from the seceding states opposes your platform. Without that 35% of the nation, you have a bare legislative majority that allows you to pass legislation if you hold your fractious party together. For situations that need a supermajority, you need your president going into a sort of mid 19th century Green Lanternism on politicians, combining LBJ style physicality with endless yarn spinning tales of life in Illinois and an appeal to morality that will convince them to Do The Right Thing. You also need the kind of patronage positions to buy off your opponents that mercifully began to end after the Pendleton Civil Service Act of 1883. And then, with luck, you can get your supermajority.
In other words, Spielberg’s film has absolutely nothing useful to say about modern political life.