Ford is a director of paradox. The climactic courtroom drama is pure hokum, never mind that it's based in history—the storytelling would barely pass muster in bad TV. But Ford laces the corniest plots with rich emotions and subtexts. Lincoln being greeted by the applause of the rabble and scared shitless by their irrationality is a stunningly poetic interpretation of American history.
There is a certain cleverness and craft to any given shots of this movie. The characters and their place within the framework of the story is introduced through their relationship with the camera and other objects in the space of a shot. It is remarkable how much massage a great director can convey just by placing the actors in the right distance of each other and the camera.
The seeds of idealism. Yet another sterling display of Ford's poetry. Ford's greatest film's are never easy. A shallow interpretation would tell you that it's jingoistic patriotism, when really the depths of melancholy paint a far greater picture. No director had a better sense of what America was and is. If not the history as it happens, then it is the history how it's felt. This is the American soul.
It may be historically inaccurate, but the pure poetry of John Ford's direction trumps this fact, so it doesn't matter. Young Mr. Lincoln is a beautiful film. Henry Fonda is amazing as always, but the film really is an overall display of powerhouse performances. The imagery is stunning as well. Maybe it's jingoistic, or maybe we've all grown too cynical. This film is about the things that work in the American system.
An exquisite masterpiece and one of John Ford's very best. It's not a case of sentimental mythologizing; it's a subtle character study of a man discovering his own talents and being drawn into his future. Fonda captures the complexity and contradictions of Lincoln - his simultaneous melancholy and humor, his populist idealism and savvy political maneuvering, his connection and aloofness.