UPDATED – Go See It: Lincoln

I saw the new Steven Spielberg movie “Lincoln” tonight and it was excellent – well-cast, beautifully shot, and – historically speaking – fairly accurate.

Tune in tomorrow for when I update this post with some actual thoughts… I am thisclose to falling asleep right now so can’t do it justice.

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It’s tomorrow now, and time for me to actually write something about the movie.

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I am not, in general, a fan of “what ifs,” especially when it comes to history. We don’t get do-overs, so I think speculating alternative histories is a fairly pointless, if occasionally amusing, activity. That said, I couldn’t shake the “what if” feeling as I left the movie theater last night. What if Abraham Lincoln hadn’t been assassinated? What if Thaddeus Stephens and other radical Republicans had not been allowed to enact their South-humiliating version of reconstruction, rather than the “malice toward none” ideal Lincoln sought? What would our country look like today? Would we have done a better job of welcoming the formerly enslaved into citizenship?

I’m not sure that’s what I was supposed to leave the theater thinking. I expect director Steven Spielberg chose the specific events of the film — the contentious debates in the House surrounding the passage of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery — to remind us that our modern contentious times are nothing new, that overheated rhetoric and back room dealings are not 21st century creations. And seeing the arguments made in a time when Republicans were seen as radicals and Democrats as conservatives also serves as a reminder of the fluidity of our political systems.

I think, too, that Spielberg wanted to remind us how far we’ve come. In a quiet scene on the steps of the White House, Lincoln asks Mrs. Keckley, Mary Lincoln’s seamstress (historically, anyway — in the film she seemed to just be a companion), what she thought “her people” would achieve once they were free. You could practically hear the audience thinking, “The same office as you, sir, one day.”

All of this is a long way of saying that “Lincoln” was a tremendously thought-provoking film, and one  that’s well worth the time to see. The performances were uniformly excellent — I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the movie sweeps the Oscars in the acting categories — and it’s gorgeously shot. It will be opening nationwide at the end of the week (the Bethesda theater where I saw it is one of the limited pre-release sites) and it really should be on your to-do list for the weekend.

Go See It: “Argo”

First things first: I am not especially comfortable with the idea of movies based on historic events that occurred within my lifetime. While I realize this will happen more and more as I age, it’s still a bit of a wrench to think that my first decade or so was long enough ago as to legitimately be considered history. That said, I really liked “Argo,” which is about the Iranian hostage crisis.

I was surprised, actually, at how much of the events of the film I remembered, since the whole situation occurred when I was between eight and ten years old. The movie weaves actual footage of newscasts from the era pretty seamlessly into the story, and hearing Walter Cronkite list the day count of the crisis really brought it all back. Everyone looked fairly authentically 70s, too – and drove giant cars and smoked in their offices – which made the whole thing seem as much like a flashback to the past as a movie.

“Argo” also does a great job with the story, making the stakes clear – and paying them off so effectively – that the entire theater applauded at the climactic point of the story, when we all already knew what was going to happen. Or I assume we all knew, anyway. They’ve been covering the Carter administration in schools for a while now, right?

This is about the least eloquent review of a movie possible, but it’s late and I should be sleeping, so I’ll leave it at this: go see “Argo.” You won’t be disappointed.