by Alan Rapp on November 16, 2012

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Lincoln
  • IMDB: link

lincoln-posterDirector Steven Spielberg‘s follow-up to last year’s disappointing War Horse is a far more personal character study of a single man during one of the most tumultuous times in America’s history. Adapted from Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, rather than give us a Hollywood version of “This is Your Life,” Lincoln chooses to focus on the final four months of Abraham Lincoln‘s presidency and the end of both the Civil War and slavery.

Daniel Day-Lewis carries the movie with yet another strong performance as our title character, and Sally Field is surprisingly terrific in the role of Mary Todd Lincoln. Although there is more going on, much like Paul Thomas Anderson‘s The Master, Spielberg’s movie can really be boiled down to two performances that elevate the story around them.

Tony Kushner‘s script focuses on the law, backdoor politics, and Lincoln’s struggle to reunite the Union and abolish slavery rather than the Civil War, which is only used as a backdrop to the events occurring in Washington D.C.

Speilberg casts several well-known faces for his Washington politicians including David StrathairnJames SpaderHal HolbrookJohn HawkesTim Blake Nelson, and Tommy Lee Jones as the leader of the abolitionist movement Thaddeus Stevens who is forced to swallow his pride and work with a President he cannot trust in order to see some movement forward in the struggle to which he has devoted his life.

Lincoln does well in examining the stressful events of the time and how the President bears the weight of them. However, at times Lincoln does lose its way with subplots, such as that of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Lincoln’s son, that may give more of an insight into the figure’s family life behind-the-scenes, but don’t always serve the overall narrative.


The film is also burdened with an awkward scene towards the end of the film where the President and First Lady’s horse and buggy ride becomes a hamfisted attempt to explain what the movie was about for any member of the audience who wasn’t paying attention. Given it’s the only moment Spielberg talks down to his audience, very nearly literally spoon-feeding them the film’s message, I can forgive it, but as it occurs so soon before the end of the movie it did leave a bad taste in my mouth as the credits began to roll.

Even with these small complaints, Lincoln is very good film centered around the best actor of the last decade. Given its narrow scope it might not work as well as a piece of historical fiction as one might like, but the film’s in-depth look at the events in Washington, D.C. (rather than the battlefield) leading up to the end of both slavery and the Civil War offers a different type of Civil War film than Hollywood usually produces.

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