As the American Civil War continues to rage, America's president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.
In 1865, as the American Civil War winds inexorably toward conclusion, U.S. president Abraham Lincoln endeavors to achieve passage of the landmark constitutional amendment which will forever ban slavery from the United States. However, his task is a race against time, for peace may come at any time, and if it comes before the amendment is passed, the returning southern states will stop it before it can become law. Lincoln must, by almost any means possible, obtain enough votes from a recalcitrant Congress before peace arrives and it is too late. Yet the president is torn, as an early peace would save thousands of lives. As the nation confronts its conscience over the freedom of its entire population, Lincoln faces his own crisis of conscience -- end slavery or end the war.Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
This film marks Sally Field's first Academy Award nomination since 1985 for Places in the Heart (1984). This is also Field's very first nomination in the Best Actress in a Supporting Role category. It is also the first nomination for which she did not win. See more »
Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax was in his early forties when 13th Amendment was passed, but is portrayed by actor Bill Raymond who was in his early seventies when the film was made. See more »
Private Harold Green:
[speaking to Lincoln on the battlefield]
Some of us was in the Second Kansas Colored. We fought the Rebs at Jenkins' Ferry last April just after they killed every Negro soldier they captured at Poison Springs. So at Jenkins' Ferry, we decided warn't takin' no Reb prisoners. And we didn't leave a one of 'em alive. The ones of us that didn't die that day, we joined up with the 116th US Colored, sir, from Camp Nelson, Kentucky.
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No opening credits except for the main title. See more »
For international releases, an additional prologue about the Civil War was added prior to the start of the film. It mostly shows archive photos with the prologue text included in it. This was decided by the studio's marketing department in its research which realized that while many non-American audiences know of the titular character, most of them are not familiar with the war itself. See more »
A story about Abraham Lincoln's 13th Amendment fight could be a snoozer in the hands of anyone else except director Steven Spielberg and actor Daniel Day-Lewis. Together they bring alive the passage of one of the nineteenth century's greatest pieces of legislation, freeing slaves for all time.
While the Civil War was coming to a close after 4 bloody years in 1865, Lincoln politicked for the amendment's passage, knowing full well that if peace were obtained, the impetus for the amendment would vanish. So politics and war are inextricably tied together, and arguably the most noble American president bartered and lied his way to passage.
Spielberg makes clear that sequestering the South's negotiating team until passage was crucial, if not impeachable. The drama as votes are bought or cajoled is an apt companion to the catastrophic war that cost over a half million lives. Less rewarding as drama is Lincoln's relationship with his wife, Mary (Sally Field), whose depression over the loss of her first child stalks here her lifetime and makes for some less than sweet moments on screen.
But this film belongs to Lincoln, who, as memorably portrayed by Day-Lewis, is a leader of strong will peppered by a sense of humor and a relentless penchant for tales: The story of George Washington's portrait in a British water closet is a hoot. Tommy Lee Jones' Thaddeus Stevens is essential Jones: gruff, blunt, ugly, and charismatic with a dollop of kindness no better exemplified than in his final scene in his bedroom.
Although this is occasionally a heavy-handed history lesson, it is my preferred way to learn. I know now what the 13th Amendment is, and I am aware in our own time of the severity of politics-- that great leaders must also be great politicians, with all the pejorative connotations our recent presidential election can conjure. Steven Spielberg brilliantly shows us that the process can be for the people and by the people and may not perish.
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