EW’s Owen Gleiberman says Speilberg’s Lincoln, scripted by Tony Kushner, “is one of the most authentic biographical dramas I’ve ever seen.”

As the title character of Steven Spielberg’s solemnly transfixing Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis is tall and elegantly stooped, with thatchy gray-black hair, sunken cheeks, and a grin that tugs at the corners of his mouth whenever he tries to win someone over by telling them a good story (which is often). Day-Lewis looks so much like the photographs of Abraham Lincoln that you don’t have to squint, even a bit, to buy that it’s him. He nails Lincoln’s thousand-yard stare — a gaze directed at once inward (at the whir of his own mental machinery) and outward (at the cosmic hum of history). Day-Lewis’ performance has a beautiful gravitas, yet there’s nothing too severe about it. He gives Lincoln a surprisingly plainspoken, reedy high voice that retains the courtly cadences of the South. That voice — from everything we know, it’s quite accurate — makes Lincoln sound like Will Rogers as a professor of human nature. This Lincoln lives deep inside his own unruly-haired head, yet he loves the people around him, even the ignorant (and racist) common folk, who repay the favor by loving him back. And that’s where he draws his political force.

Lincoln, which Spielberg has directed from a lyrical, ingeniously structured screenplay by Tony Kushner, plugs us into the final months of Lincoln’s presidency with a purity that makes us feel transported as though by time machine. (Kushner is the husband of EW columnist Mark Harris.)

Most of the film unfolds in January 1865, shortly after Lincoln’s reelection, when he knows that the North is going to win the Civil War. The real battle for him now is the fight against slavery…. Only by threading the 13th Amendment through the eye of a legislative needle can he alter the course of history.

Lincoln features a great deal of incendiary speech-making on the floor of the Senate, and Kushner’s script, which is based in part on the Doris Kearns Goodwin book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, has a lot of fun weaving insults of astonishing brazenness into oratory that lays bare the issues in all their gripping moral complexity. Spielberg, denying himself visual fireworks, frames the action with a kind of stately tension. He thrillingly demythologizes Lincoln by placing us inside Lincoln’s experience — shut up by himself (or with his querulous cabinet) in the drab meeting rooms of the White House, or in his bedroom with the ambitious, haunted Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field), who still blames Abe for the death of their son Willie. Field’s performance is shattering — in a few furious scenes, she redefines this First Lady as a woman whose supposed madness reflected a humane fervor as sterling as her husband’s.

…Lincoln brilliantly dramatizes the delicacy of politics, along with the raw brutality of it. All that’s pushing the amendment forward is Abe Lincoln’s will, his ability to do anything — even flirt with impeachable deceptions — to fulfill his vision of justice. And that’s why he spends the movie alone in spirit. When he bangs his hand on the table, roaring at his lobbyists to procure him the votes he needs because he’s ”clothed in immense power,” we’re seeing the birth of the presidency as we know it — a force that can shape the consciousness of the world. Lincoln is a stirring paradox, a dream of history as it might truly have happened.

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  • jp

    It looks like Lincoln has 12 nominations in the bag (Picture, Directing, Actor, Sup. Actor, Sup. Actress, Screenplay, Production Design, Costumes, Editing, Cinematography, Make-up and Score) and maybe the 2 sounds. But my question is: can it win Best Picture? Can it beat Argo and Les Mis (I’m definitely not confident in SLP for the win).

    Right now, I’d pick:
    PICTURE: Argo
    DIRECTOR: Ben Affleck
    ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence
    SUP. ACTOR: (No idea)
    SUP. ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway

    I really hope I enjoy Lincoln a lot. Always been a huge fan of Spielberg and DDL.

  • Jake

    I think its either Lincoln or Les Miserables for the win. The reviews for Lincoln are great so far and it will get more and more praise. I’m soooo excited for this movie, only 5 more days!!!

  • Arturo

    On the same issue, EW gives an “A” to FLIGHT.

  • Bryce Forestieri

    @Arturo, we only care about pix with a chance at winning BP, and Flight has no chance at ANY awards; liked the movie tho.

    As for LINCOLN, It’s set in stone. Spielberg is going all the way for this one. Remember when he accepted his Oscar for Private Ryan he said “I really wanted this”? Well, he wants it as much for Lincoln!

  • Everon Lucien

    I might be alone in this, but could it be a Lincoln vs. Flight showdown for best pic? Both look fantastic.

  • Benjamin Netle

    @Bryce: “Flight has NO chance at ANY awards.” Really? How about Denzel for best actor, screenplay, and director for Bob Zemeckis? I really think it is a lock for best pic nominee at least. Winning it all, I’m not sure but NO chance at ANY awards is a bit over the top. Great film.

    I know i went a little off topic, but Lincoln looks amazing as well.

  • we only care about pix with a chance at winning BP

    speak for yourself.

  • Bryce Forestieri

    @Benjamin, I only meant actually winning awards. Of course Denzel is a lock for a nomination and deservedly so. Zemeckis is a real long shot for director. The category is crowded this year; same goes for Original Screenplay. Best Pic is a different story so it could get in…

  • Bryce Forestieri

    @Ryan Adams: Good God, I was…

  • Mel

    ^^ Then good God who in the hell is “we?”

  • Wonderful review; though I’d add that, while the film demythologizes Lincoln, it still allows him the legendary, more-than-a-man stature that history has given him through the way other characters in the film react to and talk about him, especially Mary Todd (she’s very aware of how loved he is).

    DDL ought to be as sure a thing here as he was for There Will Be Blood. It’s a tremendous performance. And Kushner should win too for his script. I love the theatricality in the scenes in the House, and all of Lincoln’s stories.

    Certainly one of the best of the year, and it could win Best Picture.

  • “^^ Then good God who in the hell is “we?””

    It’s the royal “we,” you know, the editorial “we.”

  • Mattoc

    ^ What? The rug pisser??

  • Mattoc

    Ryan, can you move my comment above Tero’s. Otherwise he will get paranoid, trying to remember the bender he was on las night.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    When are the first people going to see Les Mis? Right now this feels as a battle between Argo and Lincoln and if Les Mis is even half-good, it’s a serious candidate.

    Lincoln will probably be the most nominated film (with 12 or 13) anyway… No way is Les Mis getting 15 noms as some have been drooling here (I predict 10 or 11 for it). Well, we know that getting the most nominations has not meant BP win in years, but it used to be a strong indication a decade ago.

  • Ryan Adams


  • Tero Heikkinen

    You got me paranoid now 🙂

    What did I do last night?

  • Tero Heikkinen

    “…the bender he was on…”

    Had to check the definition for this. Thought it was something gay, at first. And what an ugly word for gays, btw.

    I didn’t drink this weekend, so whatever I posted, I posted sober 🙂

  • Mattoc

    “Thought it was something gay, at first…”

    Much humor, very much humor Tero-son

    Thanks for the switch-a-roo blog pixie( Ryan)

  • Tero Heikkinen

    Not humour at all. Just an example of possible “lost in translation” -case. Sometimes people forget that English may be someone’s 2nd, 3rd or 4th language (= being somewhat inadequate at that).

  • Mattoc

    Not me. I know you’re Finnish and hated Melancholia. I knew you weren’t jesting, but my beer almost came out of my mouth. I thought I would share it.

  • Mattoc

    Mouth = nose

  • Tero Heikkinen

    What about Melancholia? The Danish film… No, I didn’t like it. Finns are known for being melancholy – we have enough of that here 😀

    I didn’t like Antichrist either, but I love Dancer in the Dark, Breaking the Waves, Europa, Dogville, Idioterne… so I have nothing against our fellow Nordic filmmaker. Lars is one of the greats.

  • Mattoc

    We had a discussion about Melancholia last year…

    Am I the only one with a fuckin’ memory around here?

  • mecid

    NEW INTERNATIONAL TRAILER! Ryan, can you post this?

  • Radich

    The New York Magazine has its review already online too.

    Great review from EW. I am anxiously waiting for the New York Times, actually. But so far the film’s reception looks really good.

    Cannot wait to see it again.

  • Unlikely hood

    It’s pretty clear what film reviewers are saying to the supposed embargo on Lincoln reviews until after the election.

    “Embargo fuck yourself.”

  • ^

    I’m letting Twitter see that, Unlikely hood. Will give you credit.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    Good one, Unlikely hood.

  • unlikely hood

    Nice, I’m not on twitter so that works. What happened to the AD featured comment of the day? 🙂

  • unikely hood, here’s your showcase.

    cute enough to earn a retweet from Sasha herself.
    you don’t know how hard it is to get Sasha to notice I’m on Twitter — so thanks!

  • Lyrical, grand and immersive….and a glorified 2-hour episode of The West Wing 1865, it seems, from the trailers.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    PaulH, you are the most idiotic (and at times even the most mean) person I have ever encountered. EVER. In USA you probably act like you’re all smart, but people would resent you in Europe. They wouldn’t talk to you.

    Hey, here’s a mirror.

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