Review of Lincoln

Directed By: Steven Spielberg

Written By: Tony Kushner (screenplay), Doris Kearns Goodwin (book)

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Tommy Lee Jones

There are few names in American history that are as recognizable and respected as Abraham Lincoln. If you were to look at a list of the greatest American Presidents he is surely to be on or near the top every time. With a man so revered there is a certain amount of inherent pressure when you are attempting to tell his story. When thinking of who is up for this type of challenge you cannot do much better than Steven Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis, and the rest of the star-studded cast of Lincoln. Having a great recipe doesn’t always guarantee a great meal, and having loads of talent doesn’t always guarantee a great film. There is a lot to admire with a film like Lincoln, but one wonders if it compromised being a grandiose achievement by placating and forcing a response full of emotional veneration. Rather than trusting in its own magnitude and using a lighter touch it makes what it is attempting to accomplish overtly evident. Moments that could have easily stood on their own accord were pronounced with such vigor that it cheapened an otherwise marvelous achievement.

Lincoln’s life was so extraordinary it would be impossible for one film to do it justice. Perhaps the best proof of that actuality is this film. This is not a biopic depicting all of Lincoln’s life. Instead it only focuses on one small portion of his years as President. The plot revolves around the debate and struggle that occurred when Lincoln attempted to abolish slavery by passing the thirtieth amendment. Many do not realize just how hard that fight was for Lincoln to win. With the Civil War near its end many argued that the abolishment of slavery would be the wrong way to reunite the country and would only hurt the process towards peace. Members of his own cabinet questioned Lincoln’s desire to get this amendment passed. They felt it would do nothing but prolong the already momentously bloody Civil War. Making Lincoln the centerpiece of this film comes with a certain difficulty. Lincoln is more than a man and he is even beyond legend at this point. He is a mortal deity that is as unfathomable as a person can get. In order for this conflict to resonate with us they had to humanize and debunk our already formulated mindset. Otherwise every moment would feel like a foregone conclusion. The film overcomes that issue by presenting us a Lincoln that is subdued and hushed rather than robust and attention seeking. For the first time Lincoln felt like a real person. A lot of credit has to go to Spielberg, Day-Lewis, and screen writer Tony Kushner. They gave us a multitude of small moments that devolved the grandiose nature we immediately apply to Lincoln. Seeing Lincoln quietly lying with his son and having to deal with difficult family issues showed he was more like us than we realize.

Daniel Day-Lewis is an actor known for his bombastic roles in films like There Will Be Blood and Gangs of New York.  He has given performances that command and transfix our concentration for every second he is on screen. Here we have a performance that is patient as it lingers for the right time to call attention to itself. His softly spoken voice and welcoming demeanor transform Lincoln from a statuesque symbol into a warm father figure.  This is not a Lincoln that gives speeches this is a Lincoln that tells stories with a soft hand on our shoulder. When it was needed they allowed Lincoln to be the man we all expect him to be, and Day-Lewis was just as captivating as ever in those scenes. For a man like Day-Lewis, who has such a luxurious career,  it’s almost always hyperbole to call a performance one of his best. Why this may not be a unanimous favorite it is certainly in that argument. Even when he isn’t saying a word your focus is pointed straight towards him wondering how he perceives his current situation. Day-Lewis never wastes a second keeping his acting active when he is simply listening to those around him. He exemplifies masterful working by using his eyes and facial expressions to exhibit his inner calculations.

In fact the performances all around were stellar. This had one of the best assemble casts in recent memory. One of the most notable supporting roles was Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens. This served as a reminder of how dynamic an actor Tommy Lee Jones can be. When the film was dominated by this wondrous cast it was at its best. Steven Spielberg is one of the most cinematic directors of all time so it was surprising to see this film have such a static camera. In a way it was barely a movie, but that is not meant to be an insult. A large fraction of scenes were solely driven by dialogue, yet it never lost its tension filled atmosphere. Having a sharply written script and a vibrant cast permitted Spielberg to take a backseat at times.

Unfortunately when Spielberg’s film style did take hold it nearly ruined the movie. While I am a huge Spielberg fan his tendency lately has been to revert to overplayed ‘classic’ Hollywood tactics. At times he entered into Warhorse like territory when the earnestness and empathy of the moment were over emphasized. Watching a group of African American soldiers recite the Gettysburg address to Lincoln went beyond pandering to the audience and entered a land of cheesiness that nearly derailed an otherwise fantastic opening. Time and time again Spielberg would call out what he was attempting to convey like a sports commentator over explaining a football game. No one can bring a childlike wonderment to a film quite like Spielberg, and that skill has lead him to create some fantastic movies. The issue is that skill does not belong in this movie. We do not need a group of State Representatives applauding a contingent of African Americans as they walk into the Capital building, or a house worker at the White House giving a glazed look of admiration to Lincoln as he slowly walks down the hallway. It was extremely noticeable when the film would demand a certain emotional response. Especially when  you compare it  to the rest of the film that was a lot more confident.  What could have been some of the film’s best sequences were tremendously cheapened through overzealous directing.

The missteps in Lincoln did not ruin the movie, but they did hold it back from being great. The pedigree involved in this production is nearly impossible to beat. Much of that pedigree comes out in full force. The acting, cinematography, and art design are remarkable at nearly every turn.  The good greatly outweighs the bad, but the bad is impossible to ignore.   What could have been a cold textbook drama turned out to be a personal tale of one of our nation’s greatest struggles. Purposeful or not it is fitting this film is released in the same year as a tumultuous Presidential Election. It serves as a reminder that no great accomplishment can be attained without a great struggle, and it shows us the true terror division can cause.  Lincoln gives any moviegoer countless aspects to admire, nonetheless its ambitious desire hinders it from being legendary.

Final Rating:RATINGS - 3.5 STAR


Show More

Dan Clark

A fan of all things comics, movies, books, and whatever else I can find that pass the time. Twitter: @DXO_Dan Instagram: Comic_concierge


    1. Just a warning, the film is rather long and slow. I know you’re not always the biggest fan of that. :)

      1. LOL well I’ll mostly likely see it when it hits media. As far as long films, that was a Titanic joke, back when I was young and in love, and wanted to impress a girl. 3 hours for a film, in the most uncomfortable seat ever ugh.

  1. Great review up until the 5th paragraph and then it takes a nasty, nasty turn! I understand what you are trying to say about Spielberg ‘overdoing’ it in some of those instances IF it was Spielberg completely making stuff up. However, that is not what was happening. In fact those ‘hollywood moments’ that you specifically pointed out are actually nothing of the sort. With one exception (of the ones you pointed out) many of those moments actually did happen or very likely could have happened. I think the main problem with your review is that you are a ‘movie buff’ giving thoughts on a historical rendering rather than a historian giving your thoughts on a theatrical representation/interpretation. Perhaps the actual historical consultant who worked on the film put it best…

    soldiers who recite the Gettysburg Address may simply represent the
    commitment of white and black troops to fight together for its promise
    of “a new birth of freedom.” Mary Lincoln’s presence in the House
    chamber may be meant to suggest how intertwined the family’s private and
    public life have become. The image of “Old Tippecanoe” Harrison in
    Lincoln’s office may be an omen for his own imminent death in office. In
    pursuit of broad collective memory, perhaps it’s not important to sweat
    the small stuff. From time to time, even “Honest Abe” himself
    exaggerated or dissembled in pursuit of a great cause. Just check out
    the shady roads he took to achieve black freedom as “imagined” so
    dazzlingly in the movie.
    for that most audacious of scenes—a bald-headed Thaddeus Stevens in bed
    with his African American mistress, and acknowledging that Lincoln had
    made corrupt bargains to win passage of the 13th Amendment. Not a false
    note. He may not have pronounced those words to his housekeeper, but
    pronounce them he absolutely did. And his “housekeeper” indeed doubled
    as his common law wife—perhaps the worst kept secret in Washington.
    Sometimes real history is as dramatic as great fiction. And when they
    converge at the highest levels, the combination is unbeatable.”

    The fact that you gave this movie 3.5 stars out of 5 is simply ludicrous to me, but hey to each his own right? That’s what makes reviewing movies so much fun! [Expect my Lincoln review in the coming days :) ]

    1. woops forgot the other part of the quote…

      “with my name up there on the credits (albeit nine minutes into the scrolling
      list), I know I’m going to be held to account for some of the bloopers.

      For a few weeks, I haven’t known quite how I would respond. But yesterday
      at Gettysburg, Steven Spielberg provided the eloquent answer. “It’s a
      betrayal of the job of the historian,” he asserted, to explore the
      unknown. But it is the job of the filmmaker to use creative
      “imagination” to recover what is lost to memory. Unavoidably, even at
      its very best, “this resurrection is a fantasy … a dream.” As
      Spielberg neatly put it, “one of the jobs of art is to go to the
      impossible places that history must avoid.” There is no doubt that
      Spielberg has traveled toward an understanding of Abraham Lincoln more
      boldly than any other filmmaker before him.”

      1. I should clarify what I mean by Hollywood moments. I wasn’t
        questioning the historical accuracy or the plausibility of what happened. My
        issue is the inconsistency in how they are presented the material. The
        final reveal of Thaddeus Stevens was handled with grace because it never called attention to itself. That moment made you realize just how difficult it was for Stevens to say what he did to get the amendment passed, but Spielberg doesn’t call it out. He gives us the information and we can do the math. Perfect
        example of trusting the audience.

        Then when you have a moment like the African American soldiers
        pronouncing the Gettysburg address with an overdone score emphasizing every word and backlighting usually reserved for fantasy sequences it nearly lost me. I understand what it was attempting to say the execution was just cartoonish. It was like an afterschool special in the middle of a Broadway play. Another example was the film’s final moment. A touching quiet scene of Lincolns closest allies surrounding his lifeless body was ruined by the “candle Lincoln” shot. First it was hideously photographed and second it did nothing but highlight an already underlined sentence. Time and time again the film did what it needed to do, but Spielberg needlessly pushed things further. Just because something really happened doesn’t make it believable. It’s the filmmaker’s job to sell us on a moment. A simple conversation can seem less plausible than a man with scissor for hands with the wrong type of filmmaking.

        It was that inconsistently that brought the movie down for me. Put it this way. Imagine bowling a game when you hit a strike on every frame. Then you get to the last frame where you only knock down 9 pins. You aren’t thinking about the fact you bowled a 299, all you are thinking about is that one pin you didn’t knockdown. That’s what happened with me and Lincoln. Much of the genius of the film was overshadowed by its downfalls.

        Again I think there’s a lot to like with Lincoln it just committed one of the biggest sins. It didn’t live up to its potential. Other issues I had that I didn’t mention in the review were Sally Field and Joseph Gordan-Levitt. Sally Field went too big at times and Joseph Gordan-Levitt was miscast.

        With all that said I understand those who love this movie. If this were too be nominated for an Oscar, or even win best picture I wouldn’t have an issue. I do look forward to reading your review to see why you loved it so much. There’s a lot to adore, but I still have my objections.

        1.  See part of what you are knocking Spielberg for is why I like him so much. You have to remember, 90% of the population is not as smart as either you or I my friend. So, while I appreciate subtlety (maybe its my theatre background) but I love the dramatic touch he puts into most of his movies. While, I can agree with you on JGL I have to say that I think Field was ‘too big’ because they were really trying to capture the character who often was a bit on the ‘crazy’ side in real life.  I am a huge history buff obviously or it would not have been my major and this time period in particular was a huge focus for me during college.  NO ONE went into this film with higher expectations and to me it lived up to those expectations about 99.9% of the time. The amount of historically accurate information and detail is astonishing!  I’ll stop before I write my whole review though and we will have to agree to disagree on these supposed ‘downfalls’ ;)

          1. That’s a great point about Spielberg and Sally Field. I find
            it interesting I’m on this side of the argument because I’m usually a Spielberg
            apologist. (Jurassic Park being my favorite movie of all time)  I do think I need to rewatch this movie. Maybe doing so I can get
            over myself and truly enjoy it. LOL

          2.  Yes, yes you do!! :) :) BTW Do you go to the theatre every other day? I watch a lot of movies but you must get in free or something!! :)

          3. lol. This time of year  I do end up in the cinema quite often. For one with my birthday and the holidays I tend to get a lot of giftcards, and I have an AMC club card and I start cashing in my free movie passes I’ve saved up through the year. Plus its helpful I have a lot of time off. Its the only the of year my work is slow so I can take PT0. (I only work 7 days in Dec. for example, The rest is time off) Perfect excuse to go to a first showing on a weekday and spend a fraction of the normal cost.

          4.  Excellent, I have a free movie coming on my AMC club card as well. I didn’t think you could save them up though for the whole year, I’ll have to look into that. Now I just need to find a job like yours sir! Very Jealous of your work schedule!!

          5. I’m not sure if you can save up for the entire year, I think the cut off is like 150 days or so before they expire. So I try to save up as long as possible. I do make out well with my job during this part of the year.
            The negative side is my life is consumed by work during the summer months

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button