Lincoln Review: A movie that earns your respect but not your affection

Daniel Day-Lewis gives a dazzling performance as the 16th President of the United States in “Lincoln”

Lincoln is most definitely one of the best films of the year. Every actor gives a great performance, the directing is strong, the story is engaging and interesting, and it is near flawless. But is it possible to love this film?

Steven Spielberg knows how to direct movies, this is clear, and he doesn’t disappoint in his latest feature but at the same time you never have that love for what you are watching like in other Spielberg films and it almost seems like Spielberg is stretching his academic muscle throughout the film.

Don’t get me wrong I didn’t not like the film. I thought it was great, easily in my top three of the year so far, but I didn’t exit the theater just head over heels in love with it like I was with some of my other top films. It definitely would not make my top five most entertaining films of the year for sure. That’s not to take away from the achievement that Spielberg put out but to let people going in know that this isn’t a typical Spielberg piece of work.

The film takes place a few months before the Civil War is ended and covers what Lincoln is dealing with inside of his cabinet and with the people of America on whether or not to emancipate the slaves first or to end the war. Daniel Day-Lewis takes on the role of President Lincoln and gives a spectacular performance as our 16th President.

Easily the highlight of the film is the performance that Day-Lewis gives is one of the best, if not the best, I’ve seen this year so far. He captures the emotions of Lincoln very well and for someone who has not been seen very much in movies or television, I believe that he has given the performance that will be the staple to look at from now on whenever someone plays Lincoln. Whenever he is on the screen, you are sucked in, wondering what he will say next or more importantly how he will handle what has been put before him. His range is incredible and he most certainly deserves a nomination and maybe a win for the performance.

Outside of Day-Lewis the cast is exceptional, just not at his level. I would have to rank Tommy Lee Jones second in best performances as his character, Thaddeus Stevens, was the second most interesting character after Lincoln. He carried the scenes that took place within the House of Representatives and made them livelier and also had great chemistry with Lincoln, especially in a scene at one of Lincoln’s parties. After Jones, I would say James Spador as W.N. Bilbo would be my third favorite. He added some nice comic relief and was entertaining whenever he was on the screen. Sally Field did a nice job as Mary Todd Lincoln but she just was not nearly as likeable as other characters and David Strathairn was good as William Steward but was very underused.

As I said before, Spielberg knocked it out of the park again when it comes to directing as it was a flawlessly made film. I want to especially point at the lighting that carried a lot of emotion in key scenes as well as the background weather that seemed to parallel with the emotions being exerted on the screen. These subtle additions made the scenes even more powerful and really highlighted the performances.

Lincoln is very much one of the best films of the year but isn’t one of my favorites. While nothing was ever done poorly, it lost my attention at some points when Day-Lewis was not on screen and never really engaged me as well as Argo or even Skyfall. It is a triumphant effort by Spielberg, a Oscar worthy performance by Day-Lewis, and one of the most well-crafted films of the year but not one I would say that I loved.


What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Zach Dennis is currently a Junior at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and is a Journalism/Electronic Media major with a Cinema Studies minor. He is from Chattanooga, TN.

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  1. BeccaMurphy

    Thank you for the review. Did you feel Spielberg’s fingerprint in this one? Did it have the dark atmosphere like Shin List and his other more serious flicks?

  2. Taylor Ramsey

    I have heard they do the modern “everybody loves this saint of a man” concept, largely ignoring the fact that Lincoln waqs every bit as hated by the people of the US as he was loved. Is this the case? I dont like modern films sanitizing history to make it fit the current view. I have been holding off on this one because of that. Lincoln was NOT popular in the way he is remembered, and kids in school are taught that he was. Everything he did, as greatness often is, was a polarizing action in this country, and if this film fails to show that, I would not be able to enjoy it for the qualities you note above.

    • Zach Dennis

      It has some instances of how people viewed him negatively but also has those moments glorifying them. I felt like the film did a fine job of mixing them.

    • David Tatlow

      I am in the same camp as you here. I think it’s always very easy to fall into the trap of “we consider these actions to be great now, so let’s make this person look awesome!”. I really enjoy films that offer more than what popular history recalls. Couple of good examples for me would be J. Edgar and Downfall. J. Edgar has many critics, but I thought that Eastwood mixed the man and the myth together really well; making him flawed human and perceived villain. Then with Downfall, somehow the team behind the film made a monster seem almost sympathetic. I’m not certain if that’s what you’re getting at exactly, but that’s my opinion anyway…

    • I would also note that the Lincoln portrayed was far from the angelic, noble, good, Honest Abe image that the modern world has. The Lincoln portrayed was remarkable in political abilities but ultimately a politician who engaged in underhanded tricks. I think that speaks in the film’s favor, as it contributes to the film’s gritty realism.

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