Lincoln movie poster
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Lincoln movie poster

Lincoln Movie Review

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Where's John Wilkes Booth when you need him? Steven Spielberg's highly anticipated Lincoln - starring none other than Daniel Day-Lewis - has finally trotted into theaters, but the sweeping epic it could have and should have been instead is a two-and-a-half-hour-long courtroom procedural that will bore general audiences.

Lincoln is, ultimately, nothing more than a long, drawn-out stage play. In fact, as a stage play, the story - which focuses exclusively on the waning days of the war and Abraham Lincoln's strategery to pass the 13th Amendment, to abolish slavery. It's one of the most important, if not the most important time periods of our nation's history, and yet it doesn't make for a very gripping movie.

At least not in its final form.

I expected - hell, I wanted - a Spielberg-directed movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis to be a sweeping epic about the rise of Abraham Lincoln and what made him the man he was. Instead, Day-Lewis and the rest of the cast are trapped in a dialogue-overloaded film that paints the president as a saint and restricts him to telling a bunch of random stories and speaking in metaphors. It works at times, but gradually becomes a very tiring exercise.

Regardless, Day-Lewis turns in an excellent performance as one of the country's most praised presidents, his soft, often humorous tone and rickety, hunched frame in stark contrast to his Oscar-winning role in 2007's There Will Be Blood. He embodies Abraham Lincoln like no one else could.

He is supported by a cast that includes Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, John Hawks, Jackie Earle Haley, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Strathairn and James Spader, among others. Jones might receive an Oscar nomination and it's almost assured that Field will, even though her emotional character ultimately contributes very little to the movie.

She contributes little because Mary Todd Lincoln has nothing to do. The scenes between her and her husband, and the father-son scenes, often feel tacked on because they are not at all critical to the story at hand. The movie is not about Lincoln the man but about his crowning achievement. That's where the film falters. I could, and have, read about that in books.

As is, Lincoln is not a terrible movie. It looks good and is well acted. But Spielberg, with Day-Lewis as his weapon, miss the mark. The movie is too big and too expensive to be confined by a long, wordy script, but Spielberg doesn't let his characters and actors breathe.

Ironically, two years ago Robert Redford directed a Lincoln-centered courtroom drama called The Conspirator that debuted to little fanfare and low box office numbers. That movie was much more effective on all levels than this one, and yet due its pedigree, Lincoln will receive much more fanfare. Where's John Wilkes Booth when you need him? His arrival couldn't have come soon enough.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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