'Lincoln': What the Critics Are Saying
History is alive and well as the16th president is brought to the big screen in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.
The film focuses on the last four months of Abraham Lincoln's (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) presidency and shows a more private, fragile side of the U.S. leader. The cast includes Sally Field as his wife Mary Todd Lincoln and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as his oldest son Robert Lincoln.
With a high score of 90 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, Lincoln received praise from critics for Day-Lewis' performance and Spielberg's decision to create an unconventional biopic that humanizes a man who went on to become an icon.
Read below to see what the top critics are saying:
Todd McCarthy from The Hollywood Reporter says, “Far from being a traditional biographical drama, Lincoln dedicates itself to doing something very few Hollywood films have ever attempted, much less succeeded at: showing, from historical example, how our political system works in an intimate procedural and personal manner. That the case in point is the hair-breadth passage by the House of Representatives of the epochal 13th Amendment abolishing slavery and that the principal orchestrator is President Abraham Lincoln in the last days of his life endow Steven Spielberg's film with a great theme and subject, which are honored with intelligence, humor and relative restraint.”
LA Times' Kenneth Turan points out that “This narrow focus has paradoxically enabled us to see Lincoln whole in a way a more broad-ranging film might have been unable to match. It has also made for a movie whose pleasures are subtle ones, that knows how to reveal the considerable drama inherent in the overarching battle of big ideas over the amendment as well as the small-bore skirmishes of political strategy and the nitty-gritty scramble for congressional votes.”
Turan later adds, “One of the surprises and the pleasures of Lincoln is its portrait of the president as a man gifted at reconciling irreconcilable points of view, someone who wouldn't hesitate to play both ends against the middle and even stretch the truth in the service of the greater good.”
Richard Corliss from Time writes, "The analogy of the 16th and 44th U.S. Presidents provides a fascinating undercurrent to Lincoln, the sturdy, sometimes starchy drama directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Tony Kushner. Rather than add to the dozens of movie biographies of the Great Emancipator, Kushner dipped into Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2005 book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln to focus on the President’s drive for the House ratification of the 13th Amendment. Boasting an urgent density of detail and cunning performances by Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead role and Tommy Lee Jones as Stevens, Lincoln is a civics lesson that frequently brings life to the nation’s central political and moral debate. Just as important, it joins Argo as a movie that dares to remind American moviegoers that its government can achieve great victories against appalling odds."
While Indiewire’s Drew Taylor thinks the movie “remains remote, hermetic, bloodless and antiqued,” he does comment on how “Day-Lewis' Lincoln is uncanny, giving off the sensation that this is the closest anyone alive today will ever get to seeing to the President walking around and talking to people. Day-Lewis inhabits the character fully, in his distinctive gait and posture (his back sometimes bending into a question-mark), his reedy voice (given the painstaking amount of historical research that went into the rest of the movie, it must be based in fact) and the more honest-feeling portrayal of his moral righteousness, which wasn't as arrow-straight as most like to think it was. Lincoln, in this movie at least, was a conflicted, often tortured man, who knew what had to be done and was willing to bend certain rules and obligations to achieve his desired outcome.”
Roger Ebert gives the film four stars and adds, “The capital city of Washington is portrayed here as roughshod gathering of politicians on the make. The images by Janusz Kaminski, Spielberg's frequent cinematographer, use earth tones and muted indoor lighting. The White House is less a temple of state than a gathering place for wheelers and dealers. This ambience reflects the descriptions in Gore Vidal's historical novel Lincoln, although the political and personal details in Tony Kushner's concise, revealing dialogue is based on Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The book is well-titled. This is a film not about an icon of history, but about a president who was scorned by some of his political opponents as just a hayseed from the backwoods.”
A.O. Scott of the New York Times says "There is no end to this story, which may be why Mr. Spielberg’s much-noted fondness for multiple denouements is in evidence here. There are at least five moments at which the narrative and the themes seem to have arrived at a place of rest. (The most moving for me is a quiet scene when the 13th Amendment is read aloud. I won’t give away by whom.) But the movie keeps going, building a symphony of tragedy and hope that celebrates Lincoln’s great triumph while acknowledging the terror, disappointment and other complications to come."
Huffington Post’s Marshall Fine notes, “Instead of making a conventional biopic, Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner chose to use a single month of Lincoln's presidency -- January, 1865 -- to examine the character, power and persuasiveness of our 16th and, arguably, greatest president. By doing so, they reveal much about the man, his time and the difficult choices he had to make.”
Joe Belcastro at Examiner.com closes with: “Overall, Lincoln is honest and revealing, thanks to being hoisted up by impeccable work both in-front and behind the lens. Spielberg pulls back the curtain on the steady and thoughtful historical figure. And with doses of candor and reality, it never drags like a History 101 course did/does in college.”
Lincoln opened in limited theaters on Nov. 9, but releases nationwide in 1,755 theaters on Nov. 16.