‘Lincoln’ Review: A History Lesson Worth Watching

Michele November 27, 2012 1
‘Lincoln’ Review: A History Lesson Worth Watching
  • Writing
  • Direction
  • Acting
  • Cinematography
  • Set/ Costume Design


Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Tony Kushner (screenplay), Doris Kearns Goodwin (book – Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln)
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Tommy Lee Jones, John Hawkes, Lee Pace, Gloria Reuben
Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski
Production Design: Rick Carter
Costume Design: Joanna Johnston

I have to admit it, history was not really my favorite subject in school. Being an English major, I prefer to write my own version of events instead of studying facts about the past. Because of this, there’s not a lot that I remember about American History even though I’m sure I studied it. Which is why going to see Lincoln, even though everyone is raving about it’s Oscar chances, was not really high on my list of movies to see. I feel like any “historical biopic” is bound to come across as a lesson for all us bad students, an easier way of learning the things taught in a classroom. And while it might look spectacular, especially with Steven Spielberg behind the camera, it’s most likely going to be as boring as listening to your teacher. I didn’t expect to go into this theater and laugh, cry, and leave with a feeling that I had witnessed something important. But all those things happened, and I would go see Lincoln again in a heartbeat.


As the Civil War rages on it’s fourth year of battle, Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) prepares to do battle in the House of Representatives. He has a only a few months to pass the 13th Amendment, which would make the prohibition of slavery a part of the constitution. The Democrats  oppose the emancipation of slaves, and the Republican party is divided between supporters of the amendment and those who want Lincoln to concentrate on peace talks with the Confederate army. It is up to the president to find the votes needed to ratify the bill, and he’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that the Amendment is a part of United States law before the war ends. Because if the Southern states re-join the Union, the amendment will be destroyed and slavery will be allowed to continue. America will forever be changed by the decisions made in a matter of days, and the weight of a free nation rests on Abraham Lincoln’s shoulders.

The Good:

Daniel Day-Lewis

I‘m sure you’ve all heard about the Oscar buzz surrounding Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. And there is absolutely a good reason for that talk, because he DESERVES it. The man does an amazing job becoming one of the most important American presidents. He oozes greatness out of every pore, and watching him on screen is an incredible experience. Day-Lewis does a perfect job creating the stature, the speeches, the thoughtful pauses, and the passion that make Lincoln a man we’re all proud was our leader. What I didn’t really expect was the grandfatherly feeling that would accompany nearly every sentence the president spoke. Some of the funny moments in the film are when Lincoln tells a story. He seems to have a little anecdote for every situation, and listening to him tell them is an experience you’ll never forget.

The Supporting Cast – Tommy Lee Jones

The entire cast features a group of amazing actors, and you’ll probably spend the movie wondering where you’ve seen that guy before. With all the crazy beards and wigs, it makes it hard to place people. But in the end it doesn’t matter what they’ve done before, it’s what they’re screaming at each other in this film. If all the name calling and yelling in the House of Representatives is accurately portrayed in this movie, I really should watch some more C-SPAN. Because seeing a bunch of old white guys passionately defending their political argument is really fun, and hilarious, to watch. Tommy Lee Jones gets an honorable mention because he is the best of the entire supporting ensemble. He has some of the funniest moments in the movie, but he also has some of the most heart wrenching scenes – his absolute determination to see all men (and women) created equal is something to watch. If he doesn’t get a nomination for Best Supporting Actor I will be sorely disappointed.

Amazing Writing

While the actors all did a great job, one reason for that excellence is the script. Tony Kushner is responsible for the powerful words that make these politicians seem like great men. He’s known for his work on Angels In America and Munich, another great movie directed by Steven Spielberg. All those great stories that Abraham Lincoln tells are probably figments of Kushner’s mind, and they are some of the coolest parts of the film. There’s a reason I want to watch Lincoln again, and it’s because I want to make sure to hear every word. Because missing anything of this incredible script would be a crime.

The Bad:

Lots of Talk

If you’re the kind of person who falls asleep without an explosion to wake you up during a movie, this is not going to be the film for you. And while I truly enjoyed listening to Abraham Lincoln talk, he does sort of sound like your grandfather. As important as those many stories he tells are, it’s not always easy to listen and stay focused. You’ll want to see it again because there were moments where you probably zoned out a bit, either by being distracted by the other people in the theater (which in my case was filled to the brim with old people) or by the thoughts in your own head. But it’s not so much a bad thing, it simply gives you a reason to watch it over again.

Overall: 5 Stars out of 5

I was truly surprised by Lincoln. I expected a boring Oscar bait movie that wouldn’t have much for me to enjoy. Instead I watched an incredibly interesting story of our history come to life with beauty and humor. I had no idea about the political intrigue it took to pass the 13th Amendment, but watching it unfold was a life changing experience. It’s kind of corny, but it certainly made me proud of American history to see how hard we fought to free the oppressed. It made me hopeful that the United States might one day be what those men dreamed about – a place where every man, woman, and child is created equal regardless of race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. Go see this movie immediately, and be prepared to sit and think about what our history means to you.

    • jessica lewis

      just saw this, daniel day lewis is too incredible. it was a little slow for me it got kind of stagnant with the amount of indoor settings, i fell asleep twice but overall it was a pretty solid film. great review! def a must see.