Lincoln focuses on the 16th president trying to pass the13th amendment to free the slaves. At the same time, the Civil War is winding down as the South knows that they will not win the war. Lincoln's goal is to pass the amendment before the south rejoins the union because he knows that they will vote against it. He and Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) must procure twenty democratic votes to get the amendment passed. Lincoln gets three men (John Hawkes, James Spader, and Tim Blake Nelson) to persuade democratic voters to vote yes while dealing with a tricky political situation. He also deals with Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), a strict abolitionist who wants more than just for the slaves to be free. Lincoln takes place in one month of presidency and basically follows up to the end of his life. It is not a full biopic of Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln is basically two and a half hours of dialogue. There is one battle sequence at the beginning but after that, it is all talking. So it is a miracle that this film is as entertaining as it is. The acting is top notch and in a weaker year would give Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field Oscars for their performances (Day-Lewis and Jones will still win, Anne Hathaway will beat Sally Field). But it is not just the three main roles. David Strathairn is very good as Seward. Hawkes, Spader and Nelson are very good as well. There isn't a bad performance in the film (except I think that Sally Field wasn't great as Mary Todd Lincoln). That is the best part of the film.
The script is also very well done but it isn't necessarily cinematic. Most of Spielberg's films are the prime example of what cinema is but Lincoln at times feels less like a movie and more like a stage play. Maybe it is because Lincoln doesn't do the same things that typical Spielberg movies do. Lincoln is not an extremely sentimental film (SPOILER: it ends in his death) and that feels unusual for Spielberg. Most of the film takes place in smoke-filled dark rooms with people talking.
I think that for a film with all dialogue, Lincoln is extremely entertaining, thanks in no small part to Day-Lewis' charismatic performance as Lincoln. But I felt that the first section of the film wasn't nearly interesting enough. It is very slow to start with not much interesting going on. But once Tommy Lee Jones' character comes in along with Lincoln's three persuaders, the film picks up and becomes very exciting.
The actors performances help you to relate to the characters. Tommy Lee Jones is commanding as Stevens and Day-Lewis is both subtle and scene stealing as the title character. The characters are good characters that you can relate to. Lincoln just wants to do the best thing for the country while Stevens is a man highly dedicated to a cause. I think that unless someone gains significant momentum Day-Lewis will win an Oscar and unless Leonardo DiCaprio is an absolute powerhouse, Jones will win another Oscar.
This is where I have a hard time as a reviewer. Because Lincoln is a very good film. It has a fantastic script by Tony Kushner, fantastic acting, and for the most part, it is entertaining. But it is all dialogue and it can be pretty slow. I always want to score films based on their entertainment level while at the same time, how skilled they are as a film. I think that Lincoln is a very good film that has many good things and is pretty entertaining and will definitely win Oscars but I will never watch it again. It just can't quite match up to the mixture of skill and entertainment that the year's other great films like Argo, Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises have.
THE FINAL GRADE: B (7.2/10)