Spielberg's 'Lincoln' is streaming on Netflix

With the exception of “Schindler’s List,” “Lincoln” is the greatest cinematic work ever to come out of Stephen Spielberg’s career. The movie, which tells the story of the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which banned slavery, stars Daniel Day Lewis as the Great Emancipator, along with Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, and a cast of actors who succeed in bringing a crucial part of American history to life. Cast members include Hal Holbrook, James Spader, and Gloria Rueben, among others. It is now livestreaming on Netflix.

“Lincoln” does not glamorize the Civil War in the slightest. No ranks of determined men in blue and gray are seen marching against one another to the sound of fife and drum. The only battle scene that appears on the screen is a frightful horror that takes place in the rain, where men grapple one another in the mud with gun, bayonet, and fists, fighting and dying in misery.

The main action takes place in and around Washington, when President Lincoln, a sly, sometimes snarky, but passionate man, is determined to drive a stake through America’s original sin.  Slavery was the issue that had, by the time of the movie, killed hundreds of thousands of men.

Lincoln will not stop at much to remove the blot of slavery. He will not allow his operatives to offer cash bribes to congressmen for their votes on the amendment. However, aside from that, anything goes, including cajoling, threats, and offers of lucrative offices. James Spader, who has made a career out of playing rascals in such TV shows as “Boston Legal” and “Blacklist,” shines as one of the operatives tasked with rounding up votes.

Tommy Lee Jones turns in one of his classic flamboyant performances as Thaddeus Stevens, leader of the “radical” wing of the Republican Party, whose lifelong fight against slavery is about to meet its climax. Stevens’ hatred of the “peculiar institution” is as much personal as it is political, as it turns out.

President Lincoln’s domestic problems are not neglected in the story. From a wife, played by Sally Fields, on the edge of madness, to a son who wants desperately to join the army, to the shadow of a dead child, the president is sorely vexed.

The genius of “Lincoln” is that the movie makes one doubt whether or not the 13th Amendment will pass, something every viewer knows happened. It is, in many ways, a window into the 19th century, when people behaved, thought, and even spoke differently than we do over 150 years later. It is a story of good men struggling through the darkness and weight of history to get somewhere closer to the light, where truly all men are created equal.

Of course, the movie not only ends in triumph, but tragedy. The death of President Lincoln by the pistol shot of a crazed, southern actor named John Wilkes Booth robbed the world of not only a president, but of a great man whose wisdom might have soothed the troubled passions of a country that is still, to this day, riven by the issues of race.