It could have been made as a war movie, but it was not. The movie is about the politics behind the passing of the 13th amendment and it shows Lincoln the visionary as well as Lincoln the ruthless politician. Even though the Emancipation proclamation was passed, Lincoln knew it could be overturned after the war. He needed a law, but did not have enough votes in the House (The Senate had passed the bill). So he and his Secretary of State Seward employ the services of three lobbyists who manage to get the required votes through some unsavory means.
Even though the film is dialogue based and mostly shot indoors it makes for gripping viewing. Like the last over in Lagaan, there is tension is in the air as the votes are counted on the fateful day. Daniel Day-Lewis simply becomes Lincoln as if the photographs we had seen just came to life. His dialogue delivery is amazing, whether it is narrating a funny anecdote in the Cabinet meeting or explaining Euclid’s philosophy to telegraph operators at 4 am. It is his movie and his performance just mesmerizes you. Apparently he first did not want to act in this movie and later he turned around. It would be hard to imagine anyone else in this role.
Another interesting aspect of the movie is the debate in the House over the bill. The Democrats wonder what will be next after the 13th Amendment. Will Lincoln or the abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens consider Blacks equal to Whites? Or will they go so far as to give voting rights to colored people and women?
The amount of attention paid to details is also amazing. In an interview with NPR, Tony Kushner explained how he made sure that the words used in the movie were words used during that period by consulting the Oxford English dictionary.
“My main concern was to make it playable — that it had to be language that wouldn’t get in the way either of what the actors needed to do with it, or the audience hearing it. That it rang true. And for that, 19th-century novels were an enormous help — also newspaper accounts and even transcripts of some conversations that are available. And I used the Oxford dictionary, and I checked every single word through all 10 million pages that I wrote. If any word struck me as possibly post-1865, the OED is great, because it’s a word museum. And it will tell you when every word, as far as we know, first appeared in the English language.”[Kushner’s ‘Lincoln’ Is Strange, But Also Savvy]
The sound editing team made sure that the sounds were as accurate as possible.
Since sound recording was not widely available until Edison’s phonograph was invented in the 1870s, Lincoln’s sound team got creative. After a long period of negotiations, they were able to venture into the White House with handheld recorders to capture the noise of the opening and closing of period doors and the ticking of the clock that had been in Lincoln’s office during the Civil War. Indeed, the sounds of the various clocks around the White House feature prominently in the film, perhaps to emphasize that Lincoln’s effort to pass the 13th Amendment is, in its own way, a race against the clock.[How Lincoln Recorded the Sounds of History]
Visually rich and technically perfect, this movie was quite fascinating for me because it showed a human Lincoln and not the deified version.