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Steven Spielberg's Lincoln--Movie Review

Updated on April 9, 2019
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As a lifelong reader and writer, Liz writes articles and poetry. She also enjoys watching and reviewing movies.

Abraham Lincoln: 16th President of the United States

Politics is a dirty business, and it always has been. Lincoln realized this, but did not flinch.
Politics is a dirty business, and it always has been. Lincoln realized this, but did not flinch. | Source

The Movie

As I watched the Steven Spielberg movie, "Lincoln," I found it amazing in its detail; unflinching in its portrayal of back-room politics; stunning in its scope and heart-wrenching in its sensitivity to the raw emotions of the characters.

The portrayal of Lincoln by Daniel Day-Lewis and of Mary Todd Lincoln by Sally Field were absolutely believable..."unimpeachable," if you'll pardon the political pun.

Actor Daniel Day Lewis visits the White House in preparation for his role as Lincoln
Actor Daniel Day Lewis visits the White House in preparation for his role as Lincoln | Source

History Class Brought to Life

In school, we are taught that President Lincoln freed the slaves, that his audacity led to the American Civil War, and that the 13th amendment to the Constitution was the legal instrument insuring the abolition of the institution of slavery.

School teaches only rote memorization of facts, not historical perspective, not the behind-the-scenes workings, (unless you had an exceptional teacher--which I did not at that point in my education).

What Spielberg has done is plenty of homework on the personalities involved on both sides, and their demeanor. He has delved into historical documents and old manuscripts to give validity and proper historical perspective to the film. Admittedly, much of this work was probably done for him, in the form of the book by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, upon which the movie states it is based.

"Lincoln" Trailer

Somehow Familiar

Even as the plot unfolded, and the known historical events were portrayed, new angles and characters were fleshed out.

It became apparent that plenty of back-room politics were afoot even then, and that was somehow uncomfortably familiar with present-day machinations.

Lincoln is celebrated as an American hero, (with the possible exception of those in the states that were "The Confederacy" during that era), and it was uncomfortable to see him bartering with foes for the desired outcome of the 13th Amendment.

Yet, even in these dealings, he is portrayed as a man torn; powerful, yet humble, confident, yet confounded; strong, yet vulnerable.

Time Frame--(Minor 'Spoiler' Included)

Focusing as it does on the final four months of Lincoln's life, with the American Civil War well into its fourth year, there is much urgency conveyed in Lincoln's pursuit of the passage of the 13th Amendment.

There is also a great deal of pathos, and this is especially seen in Lincoln's ride through a battlefield, in which everyone was killed, leaving no one to even bury the dead. You can easily imagine and join with his pain as his horse is at a slow walk and he removes his trademark stovepipe hat out of respect.

It is very shortly following the final hard-fought passage of the amendment that the fateful night at Ford's Theater occurs, but the movie does not show this; only its after-effects.

The goriest scenes are actually near the beginning of the movie, with up-close and personal battleground scenes. However, that is short-lived, and there is no gratuitous violence in the movie; only those historical moments that move the story forward.

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Cast of Main Characters

Abraham Lincoln
Daniel Day Lewis
Mary Todd Lincoln
Sally Field
William Seward
David Strathairn
Tad Lincoln
Gulliver McGrath
Robert Lincoln
Joseph Gordon-Levitt
W.N. Bilbo
James Spader
Preston Blair
Hal Holbrook
Thaddeus Stevens
Tommy Lee Jones
Robert Latham
John Hawkes
George Yeaman
Michael Stuhlbarg
Ulysses S. Grant
Jared Harris
Elizabeth Keckley
Gloria Reuben
Alexander Coffroth
Boris McGiver
General Robert E. Lee
Christopher Boyer
John Hay
Joseph Cross

Assorted Credits and Facts

  • Original wide-release date: November 16, 2012
  • Released by DreamWorks through Disney's Touchstone label
  • Produced by Stephen Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy
  • Directed by Stephen Spielberg
  • Screenplay by Tony Kushner
  • Nominated for 7 Golden Globe Awards
  • Nominated for 12 Academy Awards including Best Picture; it won for Best Production Design and Best Actor for Daniel Day-Lewis
  • Musical score by John Williams
  • Released on DVD September 2013
  • Rated PG-13


This movie is highly watchable, and I recommend it without hesitation. It would be an excellent adjunct to a child's history class--particularly older kids with the tolerance for the moderate amount of violence and some small amount of strong language; (its rating is PG-13).

It would certainly fill in many gaps in the general information given in most school lessons, glossing over things as they do with just the main points, and never delving into the background. I even learned a couple of things myself!

Even knowing the story from history class in school, the dry facts read so long ago leap to life and power on the big screen. It was an awesome movie to watch at home on a 'relatively' big screen--I can only imagine the pure immersion you'd feel seeing it in a theater.

Roger Ebert gave it 4 stars; A.O. Scott of The New York Times called it "A Masterpiece;" and Peter Tavers of Rolling Stone calls it, "A Great American Movie." And there you have it--thumbs up reviews from a very wide assortment of critics.

But don't just take the critics' word for it--watch it for yourself!

© 2013 Liz Elias


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