Befitting its subject, Steven Spielberg's Lincoln opens with one speech and closes with another. The first is the Gettysburg Address, repeated back to the president from memory by a pair of battle-muddied Union soldiers, one white and one black. The latter is the Second Inaugural, shown in a brief flashback following Lincoln's assassination, which occurred little more than a month after the speech was given.
At its core, Lincoln is a film about the arts of suasion—one that encompasses oratory and extortion, conciliation and conspiracy, arms twisted and cheeks turned. It is a film, in short, about politics.
Adapted by Tony Kushner from portions of Doris Kearns Goodwin's 2005 biography Team of Rivals, the movie portrays Lincoln's deft maneuvering in the early weeks of 1865 as he sought to balance the competing goals of ending the Civil War and achieving passage of the 13th Amendment, which led to the abolition of slavery. Within his own Republican party, the president (Daniel Day-Lewis) delicately balances radicals against conservatives, even as his surrogates cherry-pick Democrats, precious vote by precious vote by nearly-as-precious abstention, with alternating rounds of ingratiation, bullying, and outright bribery.
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