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by Leonard Maltin
November 9, 2012 12:55 AM
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Daniel Day-Lewis, David Strathairn
Photo by David James © Dreamworks Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is everything a film about that towering figure ought to be: majestic yet intimate, respectful but not worshipful. It manages to humanize a historical figure without diminishing him in any way, thanks to the director’s sure hand, a superior screenplay by playwright Tony Kushner (based on the work of historian Doris Kearns Goodwin), and a miraculous performance by Daniel Day-Lewis in the leading role. Why “miraculous?” After just a few minutes’ time, I forgot about the actor and allowed myself to believe that I was actually watching Abraham Lincoln. That’s what is meant by “disappearing into the character.” (At the same time, the audience’s awareness of Tommy Lee Jones, cast as outspoken abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, also works to the film’s advantage because it plays to the actor’s strengths—and his track record of bringing curmudgeons to life.)

Spielberg has assembled a first-class team of collaborators in order to make the 1860s come alive without ever looking, or feeling, like a slick Hollywood period piece. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, production designer Rick Carter, composer John Williams, costume designer Joanna Johnston, and every other colleague’s contributions feel organic and seamless, which is no easy feat.

The film focuses on the last few months of Lincoln’s life, as the bloody Civil War is nearing its conclusion and the President exerts his considerable powers of persuasion—and determination—to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing the end of slavery. As an examination of political gamesmanship in Washington, Lincoln feels surprisingly contemporary.

The cast is overflowing with talent, and every actor gets at least one moment in the spotlight. Sally Field, David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook, Gloria Reuben, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lee Pace, Jared Harris, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, David Oyelowo, James Spader, John Hawkes, Tim Blake Nelson, Walton Goggins, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Adam Driver are just a few of the notable players who bring their best game to this endeavor.

What do we learn that we don’t already know about the celebrated 16th President? That depends on how well-read you are on the great man’s life and work. Spielberg, Kushner, and Day-Lewis don’t put him on a pedestal: he has his failings as a father and husband, and threatens to drive some of his cohorts to distraction with his habit of telling aphoristic stories. He is kind and decent, but in order to achieve his goal of abolishing slavery he is willing to make brutal choices. He is a man of many parts, and this film allows us to see a number of those facets. That’s what makes Lincoln so memorable.

Images from Steven Spielbergs' Lincoln

  • © 2012 DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
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    David Strathairn as Secretary of State, William Seward
  • © 2012 DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
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    Jared Harris as Lieutenant General Ulysess S. Grant
  • © 2012 DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
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    Jackie Earle Haley as Vice-President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens
  • © 2012 DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
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    Lincoln inspecting the aftermath of battle
  • © DreamWorks Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox
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    Tommy Lee Jones as Republican Representative Thaddeus Stevens
  • Photo by Daivd James - © Dreamworks Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox
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    Lincoln (Day-Lewis) meets with his cabinet
  • Photo by David James - © Dreamworks Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox
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    First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field)
  • Photo by David James - © Dreamworks Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox
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    Robert Lincoln (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), 21-year-old son of Abraham and Mary
  • Photo by David James - © Dreamworks Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox
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    President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis)
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  • IP OP | January 2, 2013 2:01 AMReply

    About half of these comments sound like they
    came from the publicity dept. Sad if true. Sadder still if it isn't.

    As for this ---8th?--9th?--10th? Hollywood Lincoln that,
    in 2012, brings nothing new to the table, what to say?

    AGAIN ----Sally Field, and featuring, pointedly it seems,
    a foriegner in the lead.

    Further, Spielberg, Godwin and Kushner, one and all
    capstone vetted, authorized and 'on board' manage
    to 'completely overlook' what's surely the most urgently
    relevant aspect of his legacy -----ie his quite possibly
    ------FATAL------ diss of the Global bank monopoly
    over finance of the war.

    LOOK at what's unfolding all around you in 2013.

    AGAIN ---------------------BEWARE!

  • Jay Are | February 19, 2013 8:32 AM

    Whisky & conspiracy theories galore!???
    Laughable comment!

  • Duane | December 29, 2012 10:08 PMReply

    This was a remarkable movie in its delivering a vivid picture of Lincoln's intellect, his soul and his political acumen. Many today don't like politics. We have moved a long way from when democracy was fragile. So, the fact some find it tedious when it was central to knowing Lincoln may only reflect how much today we in this country can take it for granted. Back then, tens of thousands would travel days to just hear political speakers. Perhaps those in countries where democracy is new formed might find this movie more inspiring than those here who feel that politics -- central to democracy -- boring.

  • Michael | November 18, 2012 9:04 PMReply

    Lincoln is fatally overlong and focuses on the minutiae of Congressional vote-counting. Political wonks may like it, but for the rest of us the dialogue is mostly hard-to-follow, dry-as-dust lawyer-speak. The movie should be titled "Tedious Details Involving the Passage of the 13th Amendment." Don't stick around for the assassination conspiracy to unfold -- it is completely omitted. I was left cold and numb by the end. I think people are appreciating it (not liking it) for political reasons, and that is a shame. Read Bill O'Reilly's "Killing Lincoln" instead. It's much more incisive, exciting, and real-to-life.

  • Norman | November 23, 2012 11:48 AM

    Thank you, Michael! You just articulated what I couldn't. The after-thought assassination at the end seemed obligatory and added no value to the film. I thought it was an interesting slice of history with some great performances, but a little masturbatory in the script department.

  • Jeffrey | November 13, 2012 3:41 PMReply

    I was skeptical of this film at first. However, even with my doubts, it affected me. Although this film does celebrate a man's great accomplishments, it also portrays people as normal human beings who are flawed. We like to romanticize our history, thinking that people were better ages ago. But this film sees people as being just as mercurial and temperamental as we are today. And for that kind of realism, I applaud Spielberg.

  • VCQ | November 10, 2012 9:51 PMReply

    It was long and boring and if it gets nominated its just because of Spielberg and DDL's reputations!
    A few people walked out of the theater and even heard some asking for a refund!!!

  • Albert | December 9, 2012 3:16 PM

    VCQ, I suppose that if Batman had suddenly appeared in the middle of the movie and punched out a few Southerners, you would have liked it better! Tastes like yours are exactly what is wrong with the moviegoing public today.

  • Terri | November 17, 2012 9:48 PM

    Walkouts? That's just crazy. After the movie, most people at our showing stayed through the credits, many moved to tears (including me). This is a strong film.

  • LN | November 16, 2012 3:53 PM

    saw an early screening. yes, i agree that is was a bit tedious. maybe i'm missing something.

  • Stanley | November 11, 2012 1:33 PM

    Maybe if there had been more fight scenes, those who walked out would have stayed. Proves that our society is so focused on blood and guts, they lose the chance to learn about issues that shaped the world we live in.

  • mike schlesinger | November 10, 2012 2:06 AMReply

    The cast alone makes this a genuine event.

  • teddy | November 9, 2012 9:46 AMReply


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