Ann Hornaday is The Washington Post’s film critic.
In “Lincoln,” director Steven Spielberg delivers all the necessary elements of a film that could fend off “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty” and win the Oscar for best picture on Feb. 24. A surprisingly lively portrayal of President Abraham Lincoln and the legislative sausage-making he instigated to pass the 13th Amendment, the movie displays historical gravitas, burnished production values and a galvanizing performance from its lead actor.
What “Lincoln” doesn’t deliver, however, is a depiction of the very institution the 13th Amendment was adopted to eradicate. Enslaved people and the terror they endured in the 19th-century South are never portrayed. Instead, Spielberg confines his epic almost entirely to the close environs of 1865 Washington and its rambunctious halls of power.
For a horrifying and heightened depiction of slavery and its predations, viewers are better served by Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,”a best-picture nomineealong with “Lincoln” and one that does a better job at marrying medium to message in a direct, startling and meaningful way.