War and Peace

I just finished saying that although war movies can be extremely well-made, I'm not generally entertained by them. The subject matter is too harsh for me to have any fun, and I've already taken most of the lessons they have to teach. There needs to be something extra to draw me in. Well, curiously, I have just happened to tackle two properties that approach war that bring that same extra perspective to their frameworks: The politics surrounding war, and how those politics reverberate throughout history just as much as any legendary battle.

The first was Rachel Maddow's recent book Drift: The Unmooring of America's Military Power. Regardless of your political affiliation, try to keep that knee from jerking when you read the author's name. Maddow's argument in this book is that going to war used to be something we went through as a country, all of us together. But as warfare stands now, the public has never been more removed from the battles being fought in our name. It's hard to dispute that assertion, and Maddow does not spare either political party from sharing in the blame for it. Both Reagan and Obama (among others) are taken to task for using executive power to do what the founders pointedly stated should be left up to the legislative branch, and there's plenty conservatives would find to like in her plea that we should take a more traditional stance on how we wage war.

The book is not overly preachy, and takes a light tone where it can. Still, a few chapters did tend to meander away from the central thesis, making the overall work feel a bit too padded. I'd recommend it if you're interested in the topic of the struggle over military use and spending, but you won't come away very cheered.

For a more mainstream work, my mom, sister, and I went to go see Lincoln, which is getting pretty glowing reviews. Despite being named that, the movie actually spends more time discussing the back-room politics surrounding the effort to get the 13th amendment passed (and the Civil War ended) than as some sort of biopic of the president. I liked that. When a movie tries to take on too much, it can get muddled in a hurry.

Daniel Day-Lewis did a phenomenal job, and several of the supporting actors really shined as well, from Tommy Lee Jones to Lee Pace. Though a lot of the acting on display was fantastic, the movie as a whole had some issues. A few lines were too on-the-nose as jokey asides to a modern-day audience, and the scenes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Lincoln were rushed, to the point that they honestly could have been left on the cutting room floor.

I don't want to give the impression I didn't like the movie; it's pretty darn good, and serves as a useful reminder that policies we take for granted now were moral and political messes at the time. But it also serves as a reminder that when your story revolves around a lot of talking, it's important to make sure all that wordiness is warranted. Lincoln gives the impression that Honest Abe liked to ramble on and on, but he didn't have a post-production editor.

Drift: B-
Lincoln: B-


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