This Steven Spielberg treatment of the 16th President of the United States will undoubtedly be shown in every high school history class from now on. Spielberg and long-time collaborators cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and composer John Williams go for realism over entertainment, giving Lincoln the Spielberg treatment of style that is slightly just over an already substantially supported substance. Meaning it’s a very good look at an important moment in Lincoln’s presidency but that style of deep focus and sepia-toned warm lighting wins it over.
The Story: Lincoln, played by Oscar winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis is hell-bent on getting his emancipation proclamation passed as an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The Goods: We get to see Lincoln’s political workings as he tries to garner votes for this amendment. There is great conflict in the opposition who are okay to allow the South to continue slavery. Lincoln hires some lobbyists who provide awesome comedic relief, one played by James Spader; their main job is to persuade the opposition to vote in favor of the amendment.
The Flaws: It’s all very well done as you would expect from Spielberg, and the cinematography is stunning. The performances by Day-Lewis and Sally Field as Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd are more than convincing. But the film is not that entertaining, unless of course you’re entertained by Kaminski’s photography. The opening of the film hints at a Saving Private Ryan (1999) treatment of the Civil War but doesn’t go any further than examples of that war’s loss of total American lives. It’s a feel-good movie, with a good cause, a good ending but very little visual action. Be prepared for important conversation, and Lincoln’s long-winded stories, instead.
The Call: Spend the ten. This filmmaking at its finest—classic in a John Ford sense, like John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), which continues what Spielberg does in War Horse (2011) which is spare no expense with filmmaking prowess—and it’s actually a bit more witty and smart dialogue-wise than most of Spielberg’s films. Also stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook, David Strathairn and Tommy Lee Jones.