Review: Lincoln Is Crying Follows The Long and Storied History of Crime and Corruption in Illinois Politics

Although lacking in artistry or any groundbreaking facts, the documentary Lincoln Is Crying, from director John Davies and co-director Brian Kallies, does a solid job collecting the various facts and figures (and rap sheets) through the history of Illinois’ various corrupt political leaders. It focuses primarily on the handful of state governors who have actually gone to prison as a result of their misdeeds. But fear not, the film also takes a hard look at Chicago’s cesspool of machine-driven mayors and aldermen, and (just to give you an idea of how up to date the film is) mentions the beginnings of the recent troubles for current Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives Michael Madigan.

Lincoln Is Crying Image courtesy of the film

But the film—subtitled The Grifters, Grafters & Governors of Illinois—doesn’t just track the state’s history of corruptions; it questions why Illinoisans continue to vote for these people even after they are outed as being criminals. Are we so jaded that we've just come to expect it, or would we rather deal with a system that works on a certain level? Using local actor David Pasquesi (Veep) as the voice of “James Todd Lincoln” (who somehow links himself to President Lincoln) who narrates our way through the tainted political history of Illinois, the film interviews a fun combination of political reporters, famous Chicagoans, and other cultural commentators to investigate both the crimes and the reaction to them over the decades.

If it tells you anything, this 85-minute movie spends about 20-25 minutes just on the lovely and talented Rod Blagojevich, since he’s the most flagrant and ridiculous offender thanks to surveillance recordings peppered with four-letter words. Lincoln Is Crying also seems a bit too jovial considering the material, but there comes a certain point where after so many examples of corruption at every level of Illinois government, you have to laugh at how we’ve come to expect nothing better from our elected officials (even our current governor’s “toilet-gate” scandal is mentioned). The film never misses the chance to roast the guilty, but also shows us there is hope in ending the cycle with a recent crop of elected officials (and yes, they include Chicago’s Mayor Lightfoot among them) who are considered reformers. Time will tell, and perhaps we’ll get an update to this movie that either chronicles their downfall as well or how they were able to break the cycle.

The film is available to stream via the Film Center from Your Sofa program.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.