Daniel Day-Lewis once again delivers an awards-worthy performance in a film that's prime Oscar-bait. Lincoln is just what Academy Award voters love: a dramatic film, beautifully shot, packed with high-caliber talent, directed by a fav of the Academy, that tells an 'important' story. It has all of that, and it has Day-Lewis bringing to life one of the most beloved US Presidents in history, Abraham Lincoln. How can the Academy, the Golden Globes, or SAG voters not pay attention to Lincoln? It's tailor made for awards time.
With all of the aforementioned items working in its favor, Lincoln still lacks that vital element that would make it a major blockbuster hit enjoyed as much by moviegoers as it will be adored by awards voters. What's it missing? A compelling story that doesn't make us feel as though we'll be quizzed upon exiting the theater. Lincoln's all about passing the 13th Amendment and the evil of slavery. As someone who knows the basics but isn't a history buff, I can't say how closely Lincoln adheres to reality. This Lincoln tale makes our 16th President the champion of all slaves and a gentleman who finds the idea of one man owning another despicable, and the fight for the freedom of all slaves worthy of extending the Civil War if it's his only chance to gather enough votes to get the amendment passed. Lincoln believes that to be true and delays a meeting with the South that could lead to peace, rolling the dice and playing the odds that he and his team can persuade enough Democrats to change their minds and help the Republicans end slavery.
Lincoln looks gorgeous and the costumes are simply spectacular. For the most part, the acting is everything you'd expect from a film starring Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, and David Strathairn. Add in the surprisingly fun trio of James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson and John Hawkes as the film's comic relief, as well as a performance by Lee Pace that leaves us wanting to see him more often on the big screen (he's also a scene-stealer in Breaking Dawn Part 2), and Lincoln's cast gets high marks for making the film more entertaining than it has any right to be. Two hours of watching men argue over whether to vote yes or no, sporadically broken up by President Lincoln interacting with his family, is often just as monotonous as it sounds.
Also working against Lincoln is a score that overwhelms the film. Plus, there's an astoundingly disruptive and distracting performance by Sally Field that is completely out of step with the rest of the production, and poor Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets the short end of the stick as Todd Lincoln, appearing out of nowhere for no apparent reason, adding very little to the story. And there's a point where President Lincoln's good ol' folksy stories go from being entertaining as well as a welcome relief to the political wrangling to an annoyance. Which, come to think of it, pretty much sums up the entire film. It starts off strong and entertaining and slowly disintegrates as the film marches on and on, the pace slowing to a snail's.
Lincoln was directed by Steven Spielberg and is rated PG-13 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language.