The Closer


In the foreground of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is the thrust and parry of politics—powerful men competing to control the conclusion and aftermath of the Civil War. But behind the noisy congressional squabbling and the snide muttering of backroom deals you can hear a muffled death knell. Young men have been slaughtered; old men are taking stock. The president surveys battlefields strewn with corpses and hears the testimony of black soldiers admitting, even quietly boasting, that they showed no mercy to the foe because they knew they themselves would be shown no mercy if they fell into Confederate hands. Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) has nightmares of standing on the deck of a phantom ship heading into fog. His recounting of these dreams to his wife (played by Sally Field) does nothing to relieve her endless mourning for their dead child, Willie, or to allay her terror that their eldest son, Robert, will be killed if he’s allowed to enlist. However hard he bargains for liberation and reconciliation, it’s clear that the president is laboring in a valley of death.

Many other political players are also performing under dark clouds. Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, played by Tommy Lee Jones, still spews forth abolitionist scorn for his opponents. But there’s a jadedness in his voice, as if the doughty warrior has been battling for too long against too...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.