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Wick's Review

Created Nov 22, 2012 09:52PM PST • Edited Feb 12, 2018 10:00AM PST

  1. Quality
  2. Really Great 4.5

    A fine, fine movie, Lincoln delivers an outstanding history lesson centered on an iconic performance for the ages. With it, Stephen Spielberg continues his own ascent into the American pantheon, while Daniel Day-Lewis creates his single most memorable role.

    The movie focuses on a great legislative battle Lincoln fought in the last months of his life, an apt lens through which to view the man in full. Canny and idealistic, melancholy yet jovial, riven by familial tension, Abraham Lincoln comes alive in the movie as fully human yet worthy of his demigod status.

    Lincoln delivers a profound experience for we history buffs. General audiences will be less enamored, especially as the first half is full of exposition about the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The stakes couldn’t be higher: outlawing slavery while prosecuting the end of the horrible Civil War, and the dialog is never less than perceptively brilliant. However some will be bored, including half a dozen people sitting in the row behind mine on Saturday night. They walked out.

    Could Spielberg have done better? No, it’s a triumph. Nor could Daniel Day Lewis be any more perfect as Abraham Lincoln. Just be aware that this movie’s entertainment value comes from seeing courageous brilliance in action, not from seeing wartime action in technicolor.

  3. Really Great 4.5

    The poster image of Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln jolted the nation, so much did he appear to be the sainted Greatest President Ever. Then we heard the voice he affected when the first trailer came out: high almost to the point of squeaky. Hmm. It turns out researchers say that Lincoln did in fact have a high voice, so DDL was correct in suppressing his natural baritone. Combined with the angular – almost tortured – walk he assumes, the combined effect brings the demigod to life in an approachable way. As the wisdom flows from his lips, he becomes lovable because he’s recognizably one of us – human.

    The rest of the large cast are great, but understandably take a back seat to DDL’s Rushmorian performance, Tommy Lee Jones excepted. Some notables:

    • Tommy Lee Jones turns in his best role in years as abolitionist firebrand Thaddeus Stevens. The sharp-tongued Congressman from Pennsylvania didn’t suffer fools gladly, and considered those who didn’t wholeheartedly agree with him fools. Perfect role for TLJ!
    • S. Epatha Merkerson’s brief turn as Lydia Smith matches up well with him.
    • Sally Field deftly evokes Mary Todd Lincoln’s mix of self-pity, pride, guile and deep sadness.
    • Gloria Reuben touchingly plays Mary Todd Lincoln’s lady-servant, while serving as the primary African-American witness to the entire drama. Through her eyes we see the personal stakes for those enslaved. She succeeds outstandingly.
    • David Strathairn’s William Seward doesn’t remotely equal DDL’s performance as Lincoln, art imitating reality given that Seward served as Lincoln’s Secretary of State after unsuccessfully running against him for the Presidency.
    • Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Robert Lincoln is earnest but ineffectual, again like the real man.
    • James Spader is the most entertaining of a trio of political fixers employed to win votes in Congress. John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson are his compatriots.
    • Hal Holbrook jumps off the screen as Preston Blair, the gray eminence of the Republican Party and owner of Blair House.
    • Jared Harris makes a damn fine Ulysses S. Grant. Damn fine.
    • Gulliver McGrath’s Tad Lincoln captures the spoiled lad’s whimsy and hammerlock on his Father’s affections.
  4. Male Stars Perfect 5.0
  5. Female Stars Great 4.0
  6. Female Costars Great 4.0
  7. Male Costars Great 4.0
  8. Really Great 4.5

    Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner wisely narrowed their lens on the monumental life of Lincoln to its final few months. From this focus they captured his brilliance, melancholy, difficult family life, optimism, humor and essential good nature. Theatrically brilliant choice, even if their film’s singularity of a title suggests a more comprehensive canvas.

  9. Direction Perfect 5.0

    Spielberg uses several theatrical sleights-of-hand to great effect, including how he stages Lincoln’s assassination at a theater.

  10. Play Really Great 4.5

    Tony Kushner famously based his screenplay on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. The most prominent of those rivals in the film is Secretary of State William Seward.

  11. Music Great 4.0
  12. Visuals Perfect 5.0
  13. Content
  14. Risqué 2.1

    Battlefield violence is mercifully brief, though the movie opens amid hand-to-hand combat that is horrifyingly visceral. Men repeatedly slug each other in the face, others bayonet those in opposing uniforms.

    The effect is to set the stage for the gravity of the situation when the focus turns to the highfalutin legislative battles in Washington.

  15. Sex Innocent 1.3
  16. Violence Brutal 2.9
  17. Rudeness Salty 2.1
  18. Natural 1.0

    Spielberg and Kushner appear to have delivered a dramatic movie with an rFactor of 1, aka Normal Reality. Nothing fictionalized, at least as Wikipedia memorializes the history they bring to life.

    That allows us to marvel at that history, especially the courageous brilliance of Abraham Lincoln.

    • Brains: Unschooled and self-taught, he is nonetheless shown to be the smartest man in the room, routinely in command of essential facts and observations. For instance, he knows the particulars of Congressmen whose vote he needs when even his aides can’t remember them. Never mind his larger intellectual gifts of strategic and moral clarity.
    • Humor: Despite his “Melancholy”, he often unspooled stories that were genuinely funny while subtly advancing a key point of the message he was selling. BTW, Melancholy is what today would be considered Depression. He was entitled, given his circumstances.
    • Engagement: Unlike our current President, Lincoln fully engaged in lobbying both sides of the aisle in Congress, distinguishing himself as a master of the art, above that of even LBJ, who is considered the modern master. Lincoln apparently countenanced mildly nefarious schemes to procure votes, but that speaks to his savvy at dancing on the gray line of means-justifying-ends.
    • Complexity: The movie makes clear that bringing an end to slavery was more than a simple or singular act. It was a complex set of acts that dragged the nation down into a monumentally horrific Civil War. It started with outlawing slavery in new territories and states, then in outlawing it in Rebel States, and ultimately outlawing it for all time Constitutionally. That last almost came a cropper because it had the potential to extend the War, which was an open wound bleeding the country dry. Even then, blacks didn’t yet have the right to vote. Some may view all this as evidence of American failure at forthrightly dealing with the central failure of the original American Project. But a better reading is to acknowledge that the cost and complexity of righting that failure required a hero of Lincoln’s singular stature to lead us through.

    Finally, an ironic story from the making of the movie. Daniel Day-Lewis famously stays in character for the duration of filming, on set and off. Thus he wouldn’t speak to anyone during that time other than Spielberg. He did however regularly text screenwriter Tony Kushner. So we have Abraham Lincoln incarnate texting away. OMG, LMAO at that.

  19. Circumstantial Natural 1.0
  20. Biological Natural 1.0
  21. Physical Natural 1.0


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Mar 28, 2013 5:37PM

Regarding BrettHarrison’s Review
Thanks Wick. I think the thing that really spurred me on to say was the minimal use of music. He often just sort of gives John Williams a blank check and lets him go crazy.

Mar 28, 2013 4:09PM

Regarding BrettHarrison’s Review
“May be Spielberg’s most confident movie.” Interesting observation.