The movie follows Lincoln as he tries to pass the 13th Amendment through the House of Representatives. Many are opposed to the abolition of slavery. Lincoln asks for help from the founder of the Republican Party, Francis Blair, who demands that the president allow him to negotiate peace with the Southern states. Meanwhile, William Seward, Lincoln's Secretary of State, deploys that era's version of lobbyists (including a delightfully sleazy James Spader) to solicit support from lame duck Democrats. There are such clashes of personalities and ideologies that the waiting for the outcome of the vote becomes tense. Anti-abolitionists roar that no more slavery means enfranchising former slaves, and even worse -- giving women the vote! In meetings with his cabinet, Lincoln quietly repeats why the amendment must pass.
There's a lot to love about this movie. Mostly it's the words. Lincoln's anecdotes reveal his keen political and social intellect. Stevens' harshness shows his contempt for "the people." Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field) is clearly tormented. The members of the House of Representatives are overtly racist and sexist. There's a ton of rhetoric, all delivered with high energy in extremely starched clothing. It's a wonder people could move around back then. For a change, John Williams composed low-key music for the scenes. The score becomes apparent only during quiet moments, when Lincoln starts saying something and a flute trills heroically in the background.
I highly, highly recommend seeing this film in theaters. Then, play a drinking game with your friends when it comes out on Blu-ray and DVD. For example: sip when Lincoln tells a cheerful little story. Chug when his wife lambasts a politician at a White House party. Or, you can do what I really wanted to do, 10 minutes into the movie: bring pom-poms and cheer. Rah!