Lincoln Review: Pornography for Historians

Now that I have your attention…

Okay, here begins my catching-up period on the past week’s new releases.  I have thus far managed to avoid reading through any specific reviews of Lincoln so as not to mix my own opinion with others, but it’s been clear ever since the project’s beginning that the talent behind and in front of the camera made it clear Oscar-bait for the upcoming awards season.  Typically, I’m somewhat turned off by that sort of buzz because it gives me the impression of “You had better like this movie, or else…” which just makes me want to dislike a film more than I should if only to spite pretentious critics.  I’m happy to say that Lincoln does not suffer this effect, and while it does sacrifice some narrative qualities for historical accuracy and runs longer than it really should, Lincoln is a sharply scripted, wonderfully acted love letter to one of our nation’s greatest leaders.

The Plot:

As is the case with any historical biopic, Lincoln is both amplified and constrained by its place basis on real-life events.  We all know how Lincoln rose to the presidency, we all know how the Civil War ended, and we all know the price Lincoln eventually paid for his resolve in the Ford Theater.  Because of this, the film chooses to focus on Lincoln’s efforts to pass the 13th amendment to the constitution, which abolished slavery in the United States, rather than his entire life or the war itself.  With the war passing its fourth year, Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis) decides to put it all on the line and make on final push for that amendment.  Unfortunately for old Abe, our government is not one which allows anything to happen quickly or painlessly, and the amendment is strongly opposed by the democratic party led by George Pendleton (Peter McRobbie) and his mouthpiece, Fernando Wood (Lee Pace).  On top of that, a secret delegation of Confederate officers is on its way to negotiate a peaceful end to the war, a peace that would give Lincoln’s allies and foes alike a choice between ending the war and abolishing slavery;  a choice that would overwhelmingly favor the former.  With the help of political allies and a hired team of proto-lobbyists, Lincoln fights tooth and nail to garner the additional votes needed to pass the amendment before the discovery of the war’s imminent end.

The Players:

Prepare to ambush the IMDb page for this movie after you see it, because everyone and their mother appear to have been given a part in this movie.  I recognized nearly two dozen actors and actresses in the film, and any review I could give to recognize all of them would be much too long for you to pay any attention to.  Because of that, I’d like to focus on a few key players.

Obviously, as the film’s namesake Abraham Lincoln factors here pretty prominently.  The version of Lincoln we are given comes from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biopic of the president, Team of Rivals, and from interviews I’ve seen with the author the film is extremely loyal to that interpretation.  Aside from looking almost exactly like the man, Daniel Day-Lewis is amazing in this role.  I would be incredibly surprised if he does not win the Best Actor Oscar this year, and he will have earned it.  If anything, though, I did feel like some of the indulgences of historical accuracy held him back a bit.  For one thing, real Lincoln apparently enjoyed telling long, somewhat rambling stories and extended metaphors in conversation, and movie Lincoln is no different.  In fact, many of the characters acknowledge this fact throughout the film (One actually throws his hands up in the air and walks out of the room), yet that acknowledgment doesn’t change the fact that the movie’s lengthy run time could have easily been shortened with the omission of at least one or two of Lincoln’s Monologues.  As a quick note, I was also a bit thrown off by how feeble Daniel Day-Lewis made his voice sound for the role, it didn’t feel very natural at times but I’m told that choice was also made on the basis of historical accuracy.

David Staithairn was notably strong as Lincoln’s secretary of State, William Seward, and while they were likely the most Hollywood-like aspect of the film I did enjoy the intermittent comic relief of James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson as the three lobbyists/grifters Seward brings on to help scare up votes from undecided congressmen.  I also thought that Sally Field did a spectacular job as Mary Todd, Lincoln’s witty but emotionally distraught wife who never quite recovered from the loss of their son, William.  The one who really steals the show, however, is Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens.  I admit that Jones is one of those actors who occasionally has a hard time melting into roles like Daniel Day Lewis can, but this role bucks that trend with extreme prejudice.  Jones is given an incredibly well-written character and plays it with a huge amount of conviction, creating some of the most satisfying scenes in the entire movie through his verbal duels with the democratic opposition.

The Writing:

…is without a doubt the strongest aspect of the film.  Writer Tony Kushner gives us a screenplay with all of the wit of an Aaron Sorkin film yet with about twice the amount of earnesty? and believability.  It’s no small feat to make an entertaining movie about historical events that stays true to reality, and the only way Lincoln would have succeeded in making the audience feel as if it was watching something new would have been with this level of writing.  I mean, who doesn’t love a good 19th century “Oh, snap” moment?

The Verdict:  8.5/10  Impressive

+ Amazing performances all around

+ Wonderfully written Dialogue

+ Ably balances entertainment with weighty subject matter

– Definitely feels like a lot longer than it had to be

Other Reviews:

Dan the Man Movie Reviews:  8/10

The Bishop Review:  4/5

Fast Film Reviews:  3/5

The Movie Freak Blog:  A+

Fogs’ Movie Reviews:  A

PG Cooper’s Movie Reviews:  B+

The Daily Rich: (Positive)

Janemcmaster:  (Positive)

The Bishop Review:  4/5

Movie Fail Reviews:  Movie Win!

A Constant Visual Feast:  “Near-perfect Historical Drama”

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About r361n4

I'm a student at the University of Washington Majoring Business. I've always loved movies and my goal is to work on the financial side of the film industry. Until then though, I figure I'll spare my friends from my opinions and shout them from a digital mountaintop for anyone who's interested. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and nobody blogs about it, does it really happen?
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18 Responses to Lincoln Review: Pornography for Historians

  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Andy. It’s a good movie, but not perfect. There were times that I was taken aback by how entertaining and informative it was, and then others, I found myself dozing off a bit. Regardless, it was still a good movie that I can see getting a lot of nominations early next year.

    • r361n4 says:

      Definitely could have used a bit of streamlining, I can completely understand anyone dozing off at parts (Especially when Lincoln is explaining the intricacies of the 13th ammendment and it’s application to the southern states). I am glad to see that it’s looking good to make it’s $120 million dollar budget back, it’s always satisfying to see audiences support quality films

  2. I enjoyed this movie quite a lot. There was a scene in which two soldiers were somehow able to recite the Gettysburg Address right in front of Lincoln, but that single flaw left my psyche once the film had closed its curtain. Daniel Day-Lewis was flawless. Nice review.

    PS: Thanks for including my review!

    • r361n4 says:

      No worries man, I like having movies like this where I have other reviews to link to 🙂

      Anyways, I did think that scene was a little Speilberg-ized for a movie that seemed so intent on keeping it’s realistic tone, but I didn’t even remember it till you brought it up so it must not have hurt the film for me too much either.

  3. Great review (and awesome title). DDL is an acting god. It’d be so cool if he picked up a THIRD Lead Actor Oscar.

    • r361n4 says:

      Lol, thanks! Honestly, so far form what I’ve seen this year he’s damn near got it in the bag. The only other people I can think of that disappear into a role as easily as he does would be Kenneth Branagh and Gary Oldman.

  4. Mark Hobin says:

    I liked the film. It’s study on politics is not the most exciting time at the movies, but it is an admirable one.

    • r361n4 says:

      Yeah, I felt like I was watching the extended edition at times. I just wish we could have had more HOR argument scenes and less Lincoln Stories, but that’s just me

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  6. “Pornography for Historians” That’s me then 😀

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  8. sati says:

    Great review! I really can’t wait to see this one, I love movies with a lot of talking that are based on history, definitely prefer this kind of history movie than the ones with all the battles and fighting. Plus Lee Pace is in it and it’s a big reason why I want to see it. I think DDL will definitely win Oscar for this one.

    • r361n4 says:

      Thanks! I definitely agree about DDL deserving the Oscar, as Fernando pointed out it would be a new record third win for him. Also Lee Pace is great, do you watch Pushing Daisies at all?

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