Jeff's Reviews

Thoughts on every movie I've ever seen.

Lincoln (2012)

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt


A noble movie about a noble man by a noble director. It’s the kind of movie we’re all supposed to like. And the audience showed their appreciation with a smattering of applause as the credits rolled. But I found it all incredibly boring.

What we have is a seemingly accurate portrayal of Lincoln’s political will and his dealings with contemporary political figures. We get to see in detail how the mechanics of government work. But is that enough to be a good story? Would an account of a bill being passed today, complete with politicians and lawyers and long debates in Congress, be interesting subject for a movie? I don’t think so. In this case, the novelty of a famous president and a famous amendment mask a story that really doesn’t have a whole lot to it.

Drama comes from real relationships between real people, and this film had neither. All the supporting characters, the politicians and lawyers, even his wife and son, exist only to drive the plot forward. Lincoln’s relationships with all of them are cursory and superficial.

How much better it would have been to show Lincoln’s relationships with his peers and family in a deeper, more personal way? Real connectedness with the other characters would give us a more thorough understanding of his motives and sympathy for his struggle. Or maybe tell the story of black characters whose lives were profoundly affected by this amendment. I thought that’s where we were going with the black soldiers in the beginning, but there was no follow-through.

The film did have a strong opportunity to show some real drama with Lincoln’s assassination, but for some reason, Spielberg chose to skip it entirely. Was he trying to make the movie as boring as possible?

Day-Lewis is good at looking lanky and tired. Amazing make-up and costuming all-around, but I would have liked to see more than close-ups and interior sets. Showing more of Washington in the 1860’s, complete with a partially built Washington Monument, would have been a visual treat.

Isn’t it strange that Lincoln’s vice president, Andrew Johnson, isn’t even mentioned?

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