It begins in 1844. Amid thunder and lightning, soldiers are fighting, mano a mano. It is not re-enactment-pretty. Afterwards, you hear the sound of an interviewer questioning some of the soldiers of the 2nd Kansas Colored Brigade. One man is conciliatory, one bellicose as they fill in answers about their experience for the questioner. That man is A. Lincoln, curious and compassionate at ground zero. One soldier notes that he heard Lincoln at Gettysburg; alternately, the men recite Lincoln's address back to him. If you can hear the recitation without crying, you're made of steel and unfit for the feelings of the film.
Adding to the emotion are the fierce battles in the House and the cabinet over slavery. Lincoln argues with his advisors, including his friend and Secretary of State, William Seward. Lincoln negotiates with purveyors of patronage jobs in exchange for votes and greets petitioners, including a couple from Jefferson City, Mo., my hometown. He plays with his littlest son, grieves for a lost son, and welcomes home his third son, who wants to join the battle. Lincoln also comforts his wife, Mary, and discourses with her maid, Elizabeth Keckley. He is in charge.
"Lincoln," the movie, is impressive. In production value, most notably, it is colored like an old Viewmaster reel with light from the sun, the fire and candles. In acting, it is commendable with Daniel Day-Lewis leading in the title role, not so tall as Lincoln, but giving off a good sense of presence. He shows Abe's worry but also his ability to tell stories, like them or not. Day-Lewis channels the rasps of Bill Clinton's voice for Lincoln's. He makes you forget Day-Lewis and live for a year with Lincoln. The actor is supported by Sally Field as Mary Todd, David Strathairn (brilliant as Seward), and Tommy Lee Jones admirable as the ornery liberal, Thaddeus Stevens.
The cast speaks the good words penned by playwright Tony Kushner, based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's detailed book, "Team of Rivals." Under the direction of Steven Spielberg, the cameras are so close to the faces of the cabinet members that you feel drawn up to the table, too. Spielberg's "Lincoln" makes history live in all its raw and relevant detail.