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Lincoln Review

November 16, 2012 | Posted by Ernest Lin
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Lincoln Review  

Directed By: Steven Spielberg

Written By: Tony Kushner (screenplay), Doris Kearns Goodwin (book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”) (in part)
Runtime: 149 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language


Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln
Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens
Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Lincoln


Lincoln is a film orchestrated for Oscar victory. It’s based on the true story of one of the greatest men in America’s history, directed by Steven Spielberg, and stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Sally Field. On paper, you would think the film is an epic, moving picture. Unfortunately, Lincoln does not live up to its potential, but it’s not a colossal failure either.

Most people are going to assume that Lincoln will be a biopic covering his full life or even the entire American Civil War. Neither are what the film is about. While it does take place well into the Civil War, it is not the focus of the story. This is not a war film. Instead, it is a tale of the politics behind ratifying the amendment to abolish slavery: the Thirteenth Amendment. Clear any expectations of battlefield vistas and intense action. The fights that take place are between Lincoln, Republicans, and Democrats. It helps if you know your American history well or to brush up on it. Otherwise, there’s less of a chance you will find the Lincoln remotely interesting or enjoyable.

Lincoln will probably bore most people as the drama of the Thirteenth Amendment is somewhat dry. For me, the 149 minute runtime or slow pacing were not the sole reasons I found it boring. What disappointed me to have a lackluster experience was how underwhelming everything was. Sure you know what happens in the end. However, the storytelling, directing, and acting bring nothing new and leave much to be desired in my opinion. It’s all pretty straight forward and plays out like a History Channel or PBS movie. I predict Lincoln having a common presence in history classrooms in the future. A redeeming quality of Lincoln is the educational value. Most of us would never know about the process behind the Thirteenth Amendment because public school textbooks only cover so much.

How are the performances of the star-studded cast? Good but they could have been better. Daniel Day-Lewis is convincing enough as Abraham Lincoln and brings presence to the role. Tommy Lee-Jones is equally as impressive as Republican leader and House of Representatives member Thaddeus Stevens. Both probably will get award nominations for best actor and best supporting actor. What was lacking from both performances was heart and human emotion. I don’t think either of them is at fault necessarily since the script doesn’t give them a whole lot to work with. Sally Field as First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln isn’t on screen a lot yet she brings that subtle bi-polar personality that Mrs. Lincoln had. Lastly, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is barely in the movie as Lincoln’s son Robert Lincoln and seems like they just cast him as a means to have another big name in the credits. All around, there is wasted potential with the cast.

Again it is a real shame since the rest of Lincoln has high production values. All the sets fully embody the 1860s time period they are trying to replicate. Costumes and styles all look historically accurate and authentic. Dialogue is appropriately scripted to reflect the vernacular used in that time period. Daniel Day-Lewis himself truly looks like the 16th President of the United States thanks to truly great makeup work. With all these elements combined, the film’s crew has at least created the sights and sounds that will immerse the viewer in the days of the Civil War.

Overall, Lincoln is a disappointment. There is not a whole lot more to say about this lackluster Spielberg film. There are those that will like it such as political and history buffs. Nonetheless, 2012 has been a real good year for movies with plenty of better choices for Best Picture and worth contenders for acting awards. While everything is done well, nothing goes beyond expectations to offer something new. With this kind of pedigree behind Lincoln the cast and crew and the audience deserve better.

The 411Lincoln will certainly come across as underwhelming. Spielberg and the rest of the crew managed to produce a film with good production value. Yet nothing stood out and truly surprised me. The risk to focus so much on the politics took away from creating a more compassionate and emotional connection with many of the characters. As a result, Lincoln is the movie equivalent to a history textbook: dry and straightforward.
Final Score:  6.5   [ Average ]  legend

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Ernest Lin

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