CINEMA, 35mm _ In 1939, Ford directed three amazing films, this one being the less famous, almost the forgotten one. Nothing like a traditional biopic, it's a clever portrait of a man who likes to win (whatever how). If Lincoln is Ford's hero, he is here never presented as such, but more like a figure of multiple faces. After the process, leaving the court, there is this iconic shot of Abe becoming Lincoln. Powerful.
Perhaps Ford is a bit too much in love with his icon, unable to hold back on the mythic speeches Lincoln was known for, but at this point it is only inevitable. The simple man has become the legend till the end of times. Young Mr. Lincoln finds its place in the history of the great filmmaker; that of a man, a nation, ripped apart and confronted to its destiny. To be or not to be.
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.