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Movie Review: Lincoln

November 9, 2012

Lincoln – A DreamWorks Pictures’ Release

Release Date: November 9th, 2012 (limited)

November 16th, 2012 (wide)

Rated PG for language and an intense scene of war violence

Running time: 150 minutes

Steven Spielberg (dir.)

Tony Kushner (screenplay)

Based in part on the book Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

John Williams (music)

Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln

Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln

David Strathairn as William Seward

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Lincoln

James Spader as W.N. Bilbo

Hal Holbrook as Preston Blair

Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens

John Hawkes as Robert Latham

Jackie Earle Haley as Alexander Stephens

Tim Blake Nelson as Richard Schell

©DreamWorks Pictures.  All Rights Reserved.

Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.

Our reviews below:


Lincoln Review By John C.

***1/2 (out of 4)

Last Christmas, Steven Spielberg gave us the excellent animated film The Adventures of Tintin and the “good but not great” WWI epic War Horse, within a few days of each other.  This year the director continues to take his career in interesting directions with Lincoln, a look at the eventful last few months in the life of the sixteenth President of the United States.

Right from the opening scene of the film, with Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) on the battlefield of the Civil War offering words of encouragement to soldiers of all races, we know this is going to be a biopic that looks at the legendary political figure with deep admiration.  We then jump ahead to 1865, as Lincoln wages his own battle within the political world to try and pass the Thirteenth Amendment to end slavery, while the Civil War continues to take many lives in the fight for freedom.  Much of the film is driven by dialogue, including equally engaging exchanges between Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd (Sally Field), which quickly turn into arguments about whether or not to allow their young adult son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to enlist in the army.

Although the 150 minute running time is sometimes felt during the mildly overlong first hour, Lincoln is a very well made film that is carried by great performances, including excellent work from Daniel Day-Lewis.  The veteran actor is just mesmerizing to watch as Abraham Lincoln, breathing genuine life into his portrayal of the sixteenth President.  As Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, we really don’t know what the actual man sounded like or exactly how he moved, but this is a performance that brings him to life in a way that makes us understand why he is still seen as such an icon.  Tommy Lee Jones is a standout of the supporting cast as the equally impassioned Republican politician Thaddeus Stevens, delivering one of the most memorable moments with a courtroom putdown.

Although those who aren’t quite as familiar with all of the history might have to pay a bit more attention over the densely packed first act of the film, the last half of Lincoln becomes something universal and deeply relatable as the Thirteenth Amendment goes to court.  Even though we already know which way the vote will go, Steven Spielberg shoots these scenes with the same suspense that would have actually been felt at the time, allowing the last act to play with the emotional impact that it deserves.  The musical score by John Williams sounds exactly the way we want it to, haunting and intimate during the quiet moments and sweepingly orchestral during the bigger scenes.

Along with the solid direction from Steven Spielberg and a smart screenplay, what makes Lincoln so worth seeing are the uniformly excellent performances, which are led by a mesmerizing turn from Daniel Day-Lewis in the iconic title role.


Lincoln Review by Erin V.  

***1/2 (out of 4)

Directed by Steven Spielberg comes Lincoln – a drama telling the story of the 16th president of the United States’ final few months in office, where he fought for civil rights amidst a civil war and ultimately abolished slavery.

We open on a civil war battle, but the film is really centered around riveting performances from its leads, in particular Daniel Day-Lewis’ turn as Abraham Lincoln, and Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens who joined his court battle for the 13th amendment to the constitution.  A good portion of the film takes place in the court room, and the speeches and arguments performed by the impeccable cast play out like an amazing stage play with each getting ample moments to shine.  The rest of the film shows us the ‘behind the scenes’ so to speak, of Lincoln with his family and alliances trying to create a vision for the future and drum up enough support – just enough – to get the amendment passed and end the civil war.

As is to be expected from Spielberg, Lincoln is filmed very well and brings out the best in its cast.  Both the scenes at Lincoln’s home with wife (Sally Field) and children (Gulliver McGrath, Joseph Gordon-Levitt), as well as the scenes in court, feel well balanced and compliment each other well.  While a little long at two and a half hours, the film really picks up and engages as it goes along.  Lincoln will most likely find its place among the Oscar nominations in multiple categories, and deservedly so.  It is well worth seeing for the performances alone.


Lincoln Review by Nicole

***1/2 (out of 4)

Coming out just after the American Presidential election, Lincoln tells the story of the sixteenth President’s role in abolishing slavery.  The film takes the viewer from the Civil War to the political negotiating that Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) does to free slaves once and for all.  While the film starts out slowly, it really picks up when the politics and courtroom drama take place.

The dialogue in Lincoln is clever and believable.  The acting is excellent.  Both Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevenes are amazing, as are Sally Field and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Mary Todd Lincoln and Robert Lincoln.  The score by John Williams captures the feel of the era well too.  Anyone who is interested in history or political science will enjoy Lincoln.


Lincoln Review by Maureen

***1/2 (out of 4)

It’s not easy to accurately and respectfully bring to life a beloved figure in American history like Abraham Lincoln and do justice to the time period and his shaping in the history of the United States.  It takes a strong director and a stellar cast to do it right.  Director Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a really well done historical drama.  This retelling is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, and focuses on the last few months of his life with the Civil War coming to an end and his Emancipation bill to end slavery heading into a vote by the House of Representatives.

The film opens with bloody scenes of the Civil War and with President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) chatting with both black and white soldiers.  From the beginning you get the sense that Lincoln was a man who liked to listen to others and liked to share his own thoughts on life and his country.  The majority of the film is a series of exchanges between Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd (Sally Field), and his various political allies and opponents, including Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones).  The dialogue and exchanges are brilliant, with the courtroom scenes being particularly interesting.

Credit has to go to Daniel Day-Lewis for his brilliantly convincing portrayal of Abraham Lincoln.  His performance his fascinating to watch and will no doubt be recognized come awards season.  All the performances are strong in Lincoln, with Tommy Lee Jones being particularly good as the argumentative Thaddeus Stevens.  Sally Field is also strong as Lincoln’s wife, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is also good in his brief role as their son Robert.

This is very much a dialogue-driven film.  With the feel of a well acted stage play, it offers mature audiences a thoughtful look into an important and interesting period in early American history.  While Lincoln will have its greatest appeal with history buffs, Daniel Day-Lewis’ excellent performance will win over more mainstream audiences in spite of the somewhat long running time of 150 minutes.


Lincoln Review by Tony

***1/2 (out of 4)

Except for brief opening and closing scenes, Lincoln is a day-by-day account of events in January 1865. The president (Daniel Day-Lewis) was pushing to have the amendment to abolish slavery (already passed in the Senate) ratified in Congress before the end of the Civil War, when the Emancipation Proclamation (a temporary war measure) would no longer be in effect and southern legislators brought back into government would make ratification impossible.

Lincoln needed to apply all of his rustic charm and gifts of conciliation to convince his cabinet and factions of his own Republican party that abolition was necessary before peace. To demonstrate bipartisan support and get the required two-thirds majority for amendments, Lincoln would need about twenty votes from lame duck Democrats with nothing to lose (having been defeated in the 1860 election but not to be replaced until March). Much of the comic relief in the film is provided by the three agents dispatched to ply them with patronage appointments as a reward for their support. Meanwhile at home, Lincoln’s wife Mary (Sally Field) and surviving sons Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Tad (Gulliver McGrath) had issues of their own.

As expected, the production under director Stephen Spielberg is impressive, accompanied as always by a fine John Williams score. The distinguished cast includes among many others David Strathairn as secretary of state Seward and Tommy Lee Jones stealing every scene as the eccentric firebrand Thaddeus Stevens. As much as possible they are made up to resemble their historic counterparts, especially Lincoln himself and his family, and the British Day-Lewis has adopted a soft southern accent that serves him well, (Lincoln having been brought up as a largely self-taught Kentucky farm boy), especially in the numerous anecdotes Lincoln loved to share in support of his arguments.

Running exactly 2 1/2 hours and largely consisting of political discussion, Lincoln is not for everybody, nor is its appeal limited to civil war enthusiasts. The race between abolition and peace maintains suspense right through the final vote. Moreover, except at the opening and a couple of other scenes, depictions of the war itself are brief enough for a young audience. For these reasons, Lincoln is a valuable document of a critical period in American history that will enjoy wide audience appeal.


Consensus: Led by strong direction from Steven Spielberg, Lincoln is a sharply written historical drama that is carried by an excellent cast which includes a mesmerizing performance from Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role.  ***1/2 (Out of 4)

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