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Reader Spotlight: Lincoln Review by Nic V

I saw Lincoln yesterday with some apprehension. I’ve been waiting to see this film since it was announced over a year ago. I remembered however how much I had anticipated War Horse and how disappointed I was after seeing that film. I was apprehensive about the length of Lincoln. Two and half hours is a long time. I had called a friend to go with me to see Lincoln, the same friend that had gone with me to see The Dark Knight Rises and he declined stating that he didn’t want to go see another movie where he was going to end up being bored.

I don’t understand what critics want anymore. I read one review where the critic lamented that there was no sequence where Lincoln walked the streets of Richmond after it’s fall too underscore the scope of the Civil War and his personal regret yet there was the scene where Lincoln moves through a very somber aftermath of a battle. Critics complained there weren’t enough battle scenes. There were at least three scenes that spoke loudly of the battles fought without my even remembering a gunshot and one scene in particular that was rather jarring without there even being the scene of a battle. There was a complaint by another critic or rather a compliment to Sally Field and how she could fret. I don’t think that critic and I saw the same movie.

There were two things when I decided to see Lincoln where I wondered how they would impact the overall film, the length and the score. John Williams score is simply perfect it accomplished what any good movie score should accomplish which is serving the film and not competing with the film. I actually checked my watch just to gage how the time was moving and was shocked to see how quickly this film moved considering the length and the story.

Spielberg should now retire and live on the laurels of this film. It’s his masterpiece. He has succeeded in combining the artistry of David Lean, the ability to deal with actors like Billy Wilder, and the epic quality of Cecil B De Mille. Yes epic. Even though this film is limited in the design and decoration it’s epic. The sets are perfect. The cinematography enhances each scene. I never believed he could top Schindler’s List. He did and then some. It isn’t as laborious as Amistad or as violent as Ryan or as terrorizing as Schindler and there were moments in Lincoln where you could reference all three of those prior films.

Daniel Day Lewis is mesmerizing as Lincoln. It was the strangest feeling having Lewis blur the lines between himself and Lincoln. You knew it was Lewis but his performance is seamless and effortless. It’s DDL’s best performance ever. I like DDL a lot but I’ve never seen him at the top of his game as he is here. I was struck by the way he walked from the White House when he thought he was late to meet Mary too go to the theater. It was strange and yet both DDL and Spielberg managed to pay that much attention to the way a tall man who was tired and worn would walk. The voice needs no further commentary it simply embodies the performance.

Tommy Lee Jones is scrappy and funny and loud and abrasive and determined. He has added to his resume another fine performance. The surprise is Sally Field. I stated when she was announced that she was perfect for this role and I believed she was based on her ability to portray hysteria. I remember distinctly Field at the funeral scene in Steel Magnolia’s and although it’s a moving scene it’s quite over the top. Somehow Spielberg manages to get from Field that same hysteria without the overblow soap opera performance. I can’t recall ever seeing a bitchy Sally Field and boy she brought that to the table. She has a moment of hysteria and yet it’s not the hysteria we all expect it’s so controlled that you have to applaud the woman. There isn’t a single performance off key in this film. I remember one critic saying that famous faces walked through this movie and yes they did but damn there wasn’t a single performance that missed a beat.

What was fascinating however was this, for two and a half hours you could hear a pin drop in this theater. I went to an 11;25 am showing with a very mixed audience, young, old and diverse; and the theater was half full, the only time you heard anything was when we all laughed at appropriate places designed for us to laugh. Otherwise you didn’t even hear anyone cough. And then the applause afterwards.

It’s brilliant. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that was as intelligent and as moving at times as this was. It’s strange there are moments even though slavery is not really dissected you can feel yourself being drawn into the emotional abyss that many slaves must have felt during that time. One also has too applaud Spielberg’s high lighting the plight of veterans in a very subtle manner it’s not obvious but it’s there.

43 Comments on this Post

  1. Great review.

  2. HoustonRufus

    Very nice review. I agree. I find myself championing Lincoln. I wasn’t expecting that.

    It’s a remarkably focused film. Restrained in tone and temper. Deeply intelligent. Meticulous in details, fascinatingly so. So many aspects of the film are first rate. The script is gorgeous and achieves a perfect balance in presenting Lincoln’s political and personal lives. The performances are all so good. The film would be worth seeing for the acting alone. Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, James Spader, Lee Pace, David Strathairn, Gloria Reuben, all of them. And there is Daniel Day Lewis. I was deeply moved by his Lincoln for two reasons. First, I was moved to see an artist achieve something so truly Great. And secondly there is his creation. Whether we all realize it or not, most Americans deeply love Lincoln as a historical figure. So to see him there on the screen so fully realized is quite breathtaking. The biggest compliment I can give the film and Daniel Day Lewis’ performance is that I missed Lincoln the man and person when the film ended. I longed for him to be here now. Lincoln, performance and film, are stunning achievements. We are lucky to have them.

  3. moviewatcher

    “Spielberg should now retire and live on the laurels of this film. It’s his masterpiece. He has succeeded in combining the artistry of David Lean, the ability to deal with actors like Billy Wilder, and the epic quality of Cecil B De Mille. Yes epic.”
    “I never believed he could top Schindler’s List. He did and then some.”

    Ho… ly… shit… and I haven’t seen it yet… WHYYYY????

  4. moviewatcher

    Sorry for the double post, but Sasha you should do your own ranking of performances in Spielberg movies.

  5. manrico1967

    I saw LINCOLN yesterday.

    There have been many wonderful performances in Spielberg’s movies.

    But even in the best acted ones, the star is the director. Nothing wrong with that.

    LINCOLN is the first one that the director seems to let performances take the spotlight. Wise choice.

    The casting director of this movie deserves an Oscar. This movie is a lock for the SAG award for best cast.

    And yet, this is not really an ensemble movie. In the sense that it has an undeniable lead.

    The acting ranges from very good to brilliant (Field, Jones, Strathairn). But even among the general excellence, DDL performance stands out in its greatness.

    In its international edition, TIME magazine had DDL in the cover with the caption “The World’s Best Actor”. Usually I hate this kind of statements, but this time I wholly agree.

    I think LINCOLN is a very good movie, not a great one.

  6. ChrisFlick

    Just back from seeing this as well. Excellent in every way but top kudos to a script that was so literate and witty, all the well placed humor smart in a film of this length and subject matter. The one odd lapse was TLJ’s last scene, when he brings the Bill home to share with his housekeeper, didn’t feel like it belonged in this movie. I too thought Sally Field was terrific in this, it’s a long time since she’s had such good material. Didn’t feel like a Spielberg movie, maybe he needed War Horse to purge him of all his tricks and sentiment. And bravo for reigning Johnny Williams in this time. Made all the difference.

  7. I love DDL, but for some reason, I’m more excited to see Silver Linings than Lincoln. And I don’t know if it’s just me but for some reason this year doesn’t have a standout like previous years. It’s almost December and I haven’t seen a sweep with critics yet. Gold Derby changes their statuses every month or so unlike previous years where they’ve got a solid list. I guess if I had to put a list it would look like this: Argo, Les Miserables (haven’t seen), The Hobbit (haven’t seen), Django unchained (haven’t seen), The Dark Knight Rises, The Master, Lincoln (Haven’t seen), The Sessions.

  8. Sally throndsen

    I saw Lincoln in Green Bay, WI last night and I was completely enthralled with the film. It combined great story telling with great acting and superb writing. I cried during the last 15 minutes of the film. There was applause at the end of the movie. A woman sitting behind said “I’ve been going to movies for a very long time, but that is the first time I’ve heard applause at the end of a movie.” Daniel Day-Lewis took my breath away. He was absolutely amazing. I have to see it again.

  9. It opens in the UK on the 25th….of January! Next freaking year :(

  10. I haven’t heard anyone mention James Spader’s performance as Mr. Bilbo yet. Why not?? He was magnificent. Added a nice dimension of humor to the picture and was believable. Loved it when he smashed his crab!

  11. Sally, I saw it during a matinee and there was resounding applause at the end even though the theater was maybe just one-third full. I found that impressive, as I have only personally heard applause after movies at events like midnight showings, sneak previews or genre films like LOTR.

  12. Jack Traven II

    The only time I ever experienced an audience applauding in a movie theater was while (!) watching Independence Day (the scene when Will Smith hit the Alien in the face). :-)

  13. You should never base your film-going decisions on critics. Critics are there to ignite discussion and to provide you with some good reads.

  14. Well I’m not basing my film experiences on critics’ opinion! But it does help me weed out the ones to pay good money for and the ones that I could just wait and watch on DVD. Or the ones that I should just steer away from (Bride of chucky).

  15. It’s a masterful film and yet…and yet…it didn’t dazzle me in any way I didn’t expect it to – I know that’s an odd thing to say. It’s all first rate filmmaking. But I don’t think it’s first rate storytelling, which is not to say the screenwriting isn’t first rate (although the structure didn’t come from God – it came from All the President’s Men). Bear with me – I think there’s a difference. I think the problem with this movie, at the end of the day, is it’s the white man’s pov of a black man’s struggle. And that distance from the actual physical struggle weakens the narrative. People cry foul on movies like The Last Samurai or A Time to Kill as being “whitey saves” narratives, but isn’t this kind of in the same vein? I think the greatest STORIES of triumph are about a person or people triumphing for themselves. (That’s just my humble opinion. I’m always most critical of the movies that aspire to greatness.)

  16. Christopher

    Just got back from seeing it. Wow! I wasn’t as excited for it as some, and I had balked at the Sally Field Casting, but I must eat crow. DDL was perfect and I actually forgot that I was watching DDL. Sally Field brought it home. I almost didn’t recognize her with the weight gain-and her ability to combine that acid tounge of Mary Lincolns with a woman you can’t help but have sympathy for. There better be an amazing performance from Hathaway if it’s going to beat this in supporting. Lee Jones was great-and Spader gives his best performance yet.

  17. For some reason, I have a feeling that in the Acting Categories, they’re gonna go for the young adults! Like when they all went for non-Americans the year of No country for old men: Javier Bardem, Marion Cotillard, DDL and Tilda Swinton.

    It’ll be: Joaquin Phoenix, Jennifer Lawrence, Anne Hathaway and Leonardo DiCaprio!

  18. Tero Heikkinen

    So, from actors I see:

    1. DDL (guaranteed nom. in a strong category, frontrunner to win 3rd)
    2. Jones (a likely nominee, possible 2nd Oscar)
    3. Field (a likely nominee, possible 3/3 Oscar)
    4. Spader/Strathairn (an unlikely surprise nomination???)

    Supporting categories don’t feel too crowded to me, so the first three are all in (in 97% probability). It would be crazy if they all won, or even if two of them won. But I do think that one of them eventually will and at last an acting talent wins from a Spielberg film.

    Les Mis has a steep uphill to beat Lincoln, I feel. Argo simply cannot.

  19. Wonderful review. I agree that this is the front runner for SAG ensemble. I wonder who from the cast will be left out of the nomination under SAG eligibility rules. With every performance in the film so brilliant, there are bound to be unfortunate missing names.

  20. unlikely hood

    Helios – blame the Oscars. You’re getting it the week after the noms are announced. The team behind Lincoln doesn’t think you’d be interested before. I kinda have to agree – at least for most international audiences. That’s an American-ass story.

    Great review and I kinda loved it. I hated the opening scene, I get it, but there had to be a way to another way to shoehorn in the Gettysburg Address. With apologies to that lady in the NY Times, it was UPHILL from there – in a great way.

    I may have more to say but know this: this film is gonna win *all sorts* of year-end awards from critics groups. It won’t win as many as The Social Network (that would be, like 95% of them), but it will be a prohibitive favorite by nomination day.

    That last shot (modest spoiler) – did Abraham Lincoln *really* have his arms out when he said those words? Or…might he of the E.T.-Christ parable be trying to tell us something else? Food for thought.

  21. Profile photo of Sasha Stone

    Movie watcher – I will rank them – just need to think on it for a bit.

  22. Matt O'Callaghan

    Although I don’t necessary agree, I also haven’t thought about it. But I will get the ball rolling, just because I like these games…

    Harrison Ford – Raiders
    Ralph Fiennes – Schindler’s
    Teddy – A.I
    Holly Hunter – Always
    Richard Dreyfuss – Jaws
    Dennis Weaver – Duel
    Samantha Morton – Minority
    whoopi – The Color Purple
    Adam Goldberg – Saving Ryan’s Privates
    Dee Wallace – ET
    Liam Neeson – Schindler’s
    Dimon Honsou – Amistad
    Leonardo DiCapricossa – Catch Me
    Karen Allen – Raiders
    Embeth Davidz – Schindler
    Harrison Young – Saving Ryan’s Privates (best cry-baby of ’98)
    Joey – Warhorse

    Apologies in advance on the names and spelling, I’m not fact checker, I’m a surrealist.

  23. Matt O'Callaghan

    Don’t get me started on ‘other’ films Spielberg has touched, because quite frankly, Jack Warden in Used Cars cleans everyone’s clock ( boxing metaphore, if you’re not familiar with the fight game)

  24. Tero Heikkinen

    I like games too, so here’s my Top 10 performances in Spielberg films.

    1. Ralph Fiennes – Schindler’s List
    2. Robert Shaw – Jaws
    3. Christian Bale – Empire of the Sun
    4. Oprah Winfrey – The Color Purple
    5. Liam Neeson – Schindler’s List
    6. Richard Dreyfuss – Close Encounters of the Third Kind
    7. Henry Thomas – E.T.
    8. Djimon Hounsou – Amistad
    9. Haley Joel Osment – A.I.
    10. Jeremy Davies – Saving Private Ryan

    Three of these are children, but that’s how it goes in Spielberg world, and a testament of how good he is with kids.

  25. Tero Heikkinen

    ^Naturally, I have not seen Lincoln yet.

  26. You pretty much said it all, NicV. Great review.

    Although a longtime Spielberg doubter (read “disapointee”), I think this time he did it – Lincoln is his best film to date by a mile.

    It is by far his smartest and most focused effort; as well it is his best-looking film because we’re totally immersed into that world, not just dazzled by some pretty shots. It his best-acted film across the board, his most literate and thought-provoking.

    I don’t get the criticism out there, but unless there are a lot of Jeff Wells types in AMPAS, Lincoln is definitely the uncatchable frontrunner. While it may not land in #1 on my list, it will be the first SS film to make my top 5 in about 20 years and, if it wins BP, it will be the best film to do so in almost that long.

    DDL and Field are both revelations and unless there is something special out there we don’t know about, I consider them to be locks to win. Sorry Joaquin, Hathaway, et al. The best things come in three’s, and Day Lewis, Sally and Mr Spielberg are probably about to experience that.

    Only other note – the chemistry between writer and director is the key here. When you have a match as in sync as Kushner/Spielberg, you want to chain them together for eternity (although K Capshaw and M Harris might think otherwise).

    Well done, glad I ignored previous misgivings and saw it.

  27. I have to give credit to Lincoln for inspiring me to write that piece. I just came out of the theater amazed but what I had just witnessed so the credit certainly is not solely mine. There must always be that inspiration. Thank you Sasha for highlighting my piece.

    I want too add one thing because someone pointed this out and it’s the performance by James Spader. After I submitted my comments regarding Lincoln I realized I had meant to include Spader and just got caught up and forgot.

    I have never been a fan of James Spader, ever. I can’t think of a single piece of his work that moved me until I saw him in Lincoln. He matches Jones and Straitharn for attention in this film. I would not be surprised if he was a nominee he is that good. He’s damn good.

  28. Just to continue the game, most memorable performances in a Spielberg film:

    DDL, Field, Spader (Lincoln) – just a start
    Fiennes (Schindler)
    Shaw (Jaws)
    Barry Pepper (SPR)
    Leo (Catch Me If You Can)
    Samantha Morton (Minority Report)
    Jude Law (AI)
    Dreyfus (Close Encounters)

  29. Twilight stomped on SLP and Karenina. They won`t have good expansion like Lincoln.

  30. Tero Heikkinen

    OK, Spader gets mentioned more and more. Would this be crazy for Supporting Actor?

    Alan Arkin – Argo
    Leonardo DiCaprio – Django Unchained
    Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master
    Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln
    James Spader – Lincoln

    Is Robert De Niro definitely in?

  31. I soooo agree with Denni! We have the same batch of winners!!

    It’ll be: Joaquin Phoenix, Jennifer Lawrence, Anne Hathaway and Leonardo DiCaprio!

    Cheers to first time wins this year!

  32. I wouldn’t be surprised if Spader made it into the mix with Jones. You might be able to mix De Niro and De Caprio up a bit. That might be where the fifth spot ends up falling.

  33. Great review. While I highly disagree that it topped Schindler’s List, as that would be too great a task, I was highly impressed with the film. You’re so right that the runtime was not a problem compared to, say, The Dark Knight Rises – and what a great counterexample that is. I also would gladly throw in James Spader, and even David Strathairn, if needed. Frankly, Alan Arkin in Argo was nothing special, and Argo was hardly an actors’ movie like Lincoln. Finally, I agree about Anne Hathaway. I’m sure she’ll be stellar, but she better be, because Sally was stirring!

  34. And when you think of how Alan Alda got a surprise career nod for The Aviator, as a spot-filler…not saying James Spader or David Strathairn are in Alan Alda’s league of prestige, but Lincoln would be my go-to movie for filling out the Supporting Actor category.

  35. Tero Heikkinen

    Btw, Nic, I didn’t thank you yet for your beautiful article, so THANK YOU. You are the one who got me hyped up, and I see I’ve been posting ONLY about Lincoln in a last few days in result.

    I think I have my hopes too high now. I feel that I am bound to be a tad disappointed. A tad. Personally, Empire of the Sun got me into movies, E.T. showed me escapism, a new world. Throw in Jaws, Raiders and Schindler and the Top 5 is already crowded. Lincoln could get my #6 at best. Apart from Schindler, the rest are fantasies. Maybe Jaws not so much, but anyone who doesn’t see the fantasy in EotS is not getting the film. And yes, most people didn’t get it when it came out.

  36. unlikely hood

    No top 10 list of spielberg-directed performances is complete without Sean Connery in Indiana Jones 3. They shot that months after he won his Oscar, and you can see how much more relaxed he is – for the first time he doesn’t mind playing down his virility and even acting foolish (as with the umbrella on the beach scene). First (and maybe last) movie where Connery didn’t have to be smarter than everyone else in the room. I mean, sure, it’s not Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth, but it’s great in its way.

  37. I would totally support a Spader nomination. He rocked the house. I think his part was AT LEAST as significant as Arkin’s and Goodman’s from Argo.

  38. Thank you for your review, Nic V. I was THAT impressed by the movie too. Although I like Argo, Lincoln is MY frontrunner so far (I’m waiting to see if Les Mis will hold some of my attention also, just as Lincoln has been doing).

  39. Thanks Steve50 giving it chance and watching. I know you was naysayer but it is incredible you loved it.

  40. Tero Heikkinen

    Unlikely hood, I so wanted to put Sean on my Top 10, but that would mean passing Harrison, AND I wanted to avoid all the goofy performances. The very same Spielberg gets criticised all the time.

    Knowing THIS website’s anti-Spielberg history, I just couldn’t. I had to be serious.

  41. I read somewhere here in AD that of the 500+ pages Kushner wrote for the Lincoln movie, Spielberg took only 80 and built his movie around those. That sounds to me like future prequels and sequels.

  42. Tero Heikkinen

    Half true. SS saw the story in those 80 pages while reading the whole thing, and then that part was to be developed. Don’t expect any sequels, prequels or spinoffs…

  43. Love games. Love lists. Here are my favorite Spielberg performances:

    1. Richard Dreyfuss – Jaws

    2. Robert Shaw – Jaws

    3. Ralph Fiennes – Schindler’s List

    4. Harrison Ford – Raiders of the Lost Ark

    5. Goldie Hawn – The Sugarland Express

    6. Roy Scheider – Jaws

    7. Murray Hamilton – Jaws

    8. Ben Kingsley – Schindler’s List

    9. Oprah Winfrey – The Color Purple

    10. Lee Fierro – Jaws

    I guess you can tell that I really liked “Jaws”, yes?

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