NYT calls "Lincoln" "among the finest films ever made about American politics"
It is something of a paradox that American movies — a great democratic art form, if ever there was one — have not done a very good job of representing American democracy. Make-believe movie presidents are usually square-jawed action heroes, stoical Solons or ineffectual eggheads, blander and more generically appealing than their complicated real-life counterparts, who tend to be treated deferentially or ignored entirely unless they are named Richard Nixon.
The legislative process — the linchpin of our system of checks and balances — is often treated with lofty contempt masquerading as populist indignation, an attitude typified by the aw-shucks antipolitics of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Hollywood dreams of consensus, of happy endings and box office unity, but democratic government can present an interminable tale of gridlock, compromise and division. The squalor and vigor, the glory and corruption of the Republic in action have all too rarely made it onto the big screen.
There are exceptions, of course, and one of them is Steven Spielberg’s splendid “Lincoln,” which is, strictly speaking, about a president trying to scare up votes to get a bill passed in Congress. It is of course about a lot more than that, but let’s stick to the basics for now. To say that this is among the finest films ever made about American politics may be to congratulate it for clearing a fairly low bar. Some of the movie’s virtues are, at first glance, modest ones, like those of its hero, who is pleased to present himself as a simple backwoods lawyer, even as his folksy mannerisms mask a formidable and cunning political mind....
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