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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Lincoln

April 8th, 2013

Lincoln - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray Combo Pack, or Four-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack

Lincoln was an Oscar contender right from the very beginning. Steven Spielberg directing a movie about Abraham Lincoln starring Daniel Day-Lewis. Of course it was an Oscar contender. Lincoln earned twelve Oscar nominations and earned two wins. Did the film deserve these awards? Or did it coast on reputation alone?

The Movie

The film takes place during the waning months of the Civil War with the North's victory assured, but with a lot of bloody fighting left. The film begins with one such battle before we see Abraham Lincoln speaking to two colored soldiers. One of them, Private Harold Green, is very deferential to Lincoln. It is clearly a honor to speak with his president. The other soldier, Corporal Ira Clark, is less impressed. In fact, if there wasn't a war going on, he would be willing to debate Lincoln on race relations, and do so in a very vigorous manner. That debate is interrupted when two white soldiers come to praise Lincoln, especially for his Gettysburg Address. That speech was part of the reason they signed up for the war.

From there, we hear Abraham Lincoln speaking about a dream he had the night before about him being on a ship rushing to an unknown destination. His wife, Mary Todd, seems to be suffering as much from Lincoln's bad dreams as he is. She is also suffering from an old wound caused in a carriage accident, although she's convinced it was an assassination attempt against her husband, and she was just caught up. They continue they talk when Mary Todd has an epiphany. The dream isn't about the war, it's about the 13th Amendment, the one that would abolish slavery. It is Abraham Lincoln's plan to pass the 13th Amendment before the Civil War ends. Since the war is nearing its end, he will need it to pass during the lame duck session.

Abraham Lincoln discusses the options with William Seward, who explains that not only will they need every vote of the Republicans, which is nearly impossible, as Republicans never agree on anything, but they will still need the votes of 20 additional Democrats, and the Democrats will likely refuse to work with Republicans on principal. ... It's like they are talking about politics today, but with the parties reversed. In order to shore up support within his own party, he goes to the party founder, Francis Preston Blair, and makes a deal with him. If Blair works to make sure the conservative wing of the Republican party supports the amendment, he will allow Blair to begin immediate negotiations with the south to end the war. Blair knows that when the Spring comes and the roads are fit to travel again, the slaughter will begin, just as it has the past four Springs. In order to get the support of the Democrats, he will, "bribe" them, but not with money, with government posts. There were 64 congressmen who lost their re-election bids this past November, so they will be looking for jobs in March. If Abraham Lincoln can convince just a third of those, he will be able to pass the 13th Amendment.

That's pretty much it for the plot. This is not a biopic about the life of Abraham Lincoln. This is a movie that takes place over a very limited time and deals with a very limited scope when it comes to Abraham Lincoln's political career. It is only the push to get the 13th Amendment passed that is the focus of this movie. Fortunately, there's more than enough intrigue here to carry a movie, especially if you are a political junkie like myself. Seeing the behind-the-scenes machinations are particularly intriguing, even though we know from history how they turned out.

If you are not a political junkie, the film's greatest asset is its immense and immensely talented cast. The number of major award nominations and wins this cast has accumulated, including several Oscar winning or Oscar nominated actors in this cast is incredible. Even smaller parts, parts that are barely more than cameos, have amazing actors performing them. You could literally ignore the plot, jump to a random chapter on the Blu-ray, and just watch the actors perform their craft. There's moments of great drama, emotional depth, even some levity. It is a fantastic film in all regards.

On the other hand, there are some, a minority, who think the film is too long and its pace is too slow. I'm not one of those people, but it is a complaint that does have some validity. There are scenes where it is just two characters talking to each other. Many scenes have Abraham Lincoln telling stories to other characters. There's even a scene where Edwin M. Stanton, the Secretary of War, has an outburst at Mr. Lincoln beginning to tell yet another story. I guess if the movie hadn't grabbed your attention by that point, you would be agreeing with him.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD include just The Journey to Lincoln, a nine-minute featurette about the film's origins and how it came to be in its present form. The two-disc Blu-ray has this and another, even shorter, featurette called A Historic Tapestry: Richmond, Virginia. That's not an acceptable amount of extras. Fortunately, there is a four-disc Blu-ray Combo Pack that includes a bonus disc with more than an hour of featurettes. These start with In the Company of Character, a ten-minute featurette on the acting in the film and how they tried for absolute authenticity. Crafting the Past is just a tiny bit longer and talks about the film's Oscar-winning production design, as well as the Oscar-nominated costume design. Living with Lincoln is the longest featurette running close to thirty minutes and it is your typical making of featurette. In-depth and worth checking out. Finally there's In Lincoln's Footsteps, which runs for seventeen minutes and is another making of featurette.

This is not a fancy film in terms of visuals or the sound, that said, the technical presentation here is near reference level quality. Every scene is perfect in terms of the level of details, the color representation, the deepness of the shadows, etc. There's not a hint of digital manipulation or any compression issues. It is impeccable. It isn't showy, which is the only reason it isn't full reference level quality. Likewise, the audio is for all intents and purposes, perfect. The dialogue, and there is a lot of it, is always crystal clear. In many scenes, there are only a few characters talking so the surround sound speakers are nearly silent. However, when called upon, like in the early battle scene or the number of scenes in the house of representatives, the sound is more immersive.

The DVD is a little expensive compared to most first-run releases at a price of $20. The two-disc Blu-ray, on the other hand, is $23, and a premium of just 15% is quite low. The four-disc Blu-ray costs $30, which is worth it given the quality of the movie and the extras on the bonus disc.

The Verdict

Lincoln is a must have, but if you are only interested in renting, then the DVD is fine. The Two-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack doesn't add much in terms of extras, but it also costs very little and it is worth picking up. However, I think the Four-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack is the best deal.


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Filed under: Video Review, Lincoln, Sally Field, Daniel Day-Lewis, Hal Holbrook, Bruce McGill, Steven Spielberg, David Strathairn, David Oyelowo, Colman Domingo