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Steven Spielberg's Lincoln--Movie Review

Updated on April 9, 2019
DzyMsLizzy profile image

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 He has delved into historical documents and old manuscripts to give validity and proper historical perspective to the film.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.

Have You Seen This Movie?

Have you seen this movie?

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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


Submit a Comment
  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    7 years ago from Oakley, CA

    @ ahorseback--yes, I do recall the movie showing one of his tangent story-telling episodes! Thanks for reminding me!

    @ Paradise7--Glad I was able to jog your memory; I'm sure you will enjoy the movie. Thanks for stopping by--I'm so glad you liked the review!

  • Paradise7 profile image


    7 years ago from Upstate New York

    I intended to see this in the movie theatre when it first came out, but missed it due to illness. Thank you for reminding me about this film. I'd really like to see it, and even more so after reading your review.

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    DZY, Lincoln was well known to go off on a rant whenever things got serious , he was a great storyteller , infusing calm humor into a serious conversation when it was truly needed ! Just like in the movie! Bless you for loving Lincoln !.....Ed

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    7 years ago from Oakley, CA

    @ ahorseback--Thank you very much for your great compliment on my review--I'm glad you liked it. It was a great movie; one I'd watch again. Thanks for the votes, and even the funny; I can appreciate and imagine the sense of humor lurking under that serious exterior.

    @ MG Singh--Thanks much for stopping by; I'm glad you liked the review.

  • MG Singh profile image

    MG Singh 

    7 years ago from UAE

    Good review of a good movie

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    Dzy, Hey girl ! This movie is quite probably the best movie I have ever watched , being a Abe Lincoln lover , I was enthralled by the accuracy in his portrayal . In his stature and his nature ! I have read tons of Lincoln stuff and this movie nailed it !For me , He was the finest president ever Awesome review !......Ed == I even pushed funny because he had an amazing sense of humor believe it or not !

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    7 years ago from Oakley, CA

    @ Jo Goldsmith11--I’m delighted that you were inspired to watch this great movie, and that you enjoyed it so well. Thanks very much for the votes, share and tweet! I’ll be sure to look up the Movie Review Category on those Gold Awards. Sounds interesting. I appreciate your enthusiasm.

    @ Denise--Thank you very much. It was a great movie, was it not? Sally Field sure came into her own as a versatile actress once released from the abject silliness that was “The Flying Nun.”

    Many thanks for the votes and share.

    @ Genna East--Literate film--ah, yes--that is an excellent description for this movie. Spielberg always pays attention to detail, which is why he has emerged as one of the foremost film makers and directors, regardless of topic. Thank you so very much for your equally literate input and compliment. I’m most pleased that you enjoyed the review.

  • Genna East profile image

    Genna East 

    7 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

    This is an excellent review of one of the finest, literate films ever made. Spielberg’s attention to detail was nearly flawless. We were shown the world in which they lived and their societal culture, and I was impressed that the characters spoke in the same vernacular of those times. We were gifted with insight into Lincoln’s razor sharp intellect and understanding of politics and the people of his day. (It is almost impossible not to have an unabashed crush on who this man was a human being.) What was a surprise to me was how little has changed over these many years in terms of political machinations. Well done, Lizzy. :-)

  • Denise Handlon profile image

    Denise Handlon 

    7 years ago from North Carolina

    Well written review, Lizzy. I did see the movie and agree with your eval of it. I enjoyed it and was amazed that it was so well researched. Kudos to Sally Field and Daniel Day Lewis. UP/U/I sharing.

  • Jo_Goldsmith11 profile image


    7 years ago

    I so enjoyed your excellent writing of the review of one of the best movies ever written. The actors were amazing! Thank you for writing this! I would of never watched it, had you not detailed so perfectly the reasons why I should!

    Shared, Up +++ and tweeted. :-) Also a big cheers for one of the winners of the December Gold Award for Movie Review Category! :-) Will be posted soon!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    8 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Nell!

    Yes, Mr. Day-Lewis sure takes method acting to a whole new level. I'm sure you will like this movie. I thank you for your kind comment; I'm delighted you liked my review so well.

  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 

    8 years ago from England

    This was a great review, now I would like to see it. I remember reading how Daniel Day Lewis always 'lives' the part that he plays for months before filming to make sure he gets the character just right, this is a must see, thanks Lizzy.

  • Nellieanna profile image

    Nellieanna Hay 

    8 years ago from TEXAS

    I understand. George & I had 'common ground' movies we both liked - and they reached both directions, fortunately, but now I indulge my 'druthers fully. haha. I haven't heard of the BBC comedies you mention, but I've enjoyed "Berkeley Square" which focuses on nannies in large wealthy London households and "The Duchess of Duke Street", based on a true story of self-made character who rose from plain beginnings to gain status through being a fantastic cook and business woman. I've enjoyed some other single British movies, not so much comedies, though. I adore Jane Austen's books and movies made from them, too.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    8 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello again Nellianna--

    It sounds like you've been up to your eyeballs in a game of "catch-up" with TV series. I never did see that series, and I'm not sure I ever will, as it's not my current husband's cup of tea...I believe my mom watched it, along with the BBC comedies of "Fawlty Towers," and "Are You Being Served?"

    I must look up the other movies you mentioned with Daniel Day-Lewis. They sound fascinating. Thanks for your additional comment and information, and for the compliment on my writing! ;-) (blushing)...

  • Nellieanna profile image

    Nellieanna Hay 

    8 years ago from TEXAS

    I watched "Somewhere In Time" for the first time in 1988 with my daughter and her family in Indiana and related to it immediately. I have the DVD now and watch it from time to time. It's still worth the repeat. I hope you get the chance to re-watch it.

    I'm sure I'll relate better to "Lincoln" when I re-watch it. My more recent experience with needing 'a second take' for a movie was "Gosford Park" with Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith and several other well-known British actors, plus some really enjoyable music of the era in which it is set. I am a history buff and have become something of a Julian Fellowes fan. He wrote this single movie set in England in the 1930s, featuring a large servant-staffed aristocratic mansion, before he wrote the ongoing series, "Downton Abbey". But "Gosford Park" is darker, with a quite convoluted murder mystery involved, along with somewhat difficult British accents among a large cast of principle characters, plus many literally low-light scenes. I was somewhat lost in it till I watched it again. It surprised me to 'get' it so slowly. I'm usually observant and follow a plot or storyline pretty well! I do love historical accounts as well as well-done historical settings for fictional stories.

    Daniel Day Lewis is a long-time favorite actor. He was so good in Edith Wharton's "Age of Innocence", set in turn-of-the-century New York high society. In one of my all-time favorite movies, "Room With A View", he was great as an insufferably stuffy Cecil Vyse. He's quite an actor. He definitely "became" Lincoln in that role. I'm so glad for your glowing review of it. I'd planned to watch it again, and am truly inspired to, now. You write so well, you really make it come alive!

    I've been immersed in watching the full 5-seasons of the 1970s series, "Upstairs, Downstairs", which I didn't see back then. Now I'm ready to see some single-movies again!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    8 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello dellea,

    I agree--in fact, this is the first movie I've seen with Daniel Day-Lewis, and I was so impressed. You forget he's an actor--you're there with Lincoln himself.

    Thanks very much for your comment and compliment.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    Daniel Day Lewis is an awesome actor and he brings Lincoln alive for our education and enlightenment in this movie... it's two thumbs up and so is your review.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    8 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello MsDora,

    I am glad you liked the review, and I thank you for your praise. If you are a history buff at all, I'm sure you will appreciate this movie.

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Weithers 

    8 years ago from The Caribbean

    Thank you for the review. I am impressed by Spielberg's practical perspective according to your review, and would like to watch it. Thank you.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    8 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Well, hello Nellianna--

    Thanks so very much. I do hope you enjoy the movie better on the second 'take.' I find some movies are like that--you have to watch them more than once to "get it," or to catch everything that is going on with complex plot lines.

    Another movie that is like that for me is "Somewhere in Time." It is such a time-warp tangle, and chicken-or-egg question, that I must again find a copy and re-watch.

    I'm glad I inspired you in some small way--thanks for making my day. ;-) Cheers!

  • Nellieanna profile image

    Nellieanna Hay 

    8 years ago from TEXAS

    You've inspired me to re-view this movie. I couldn't wait to get the DVD for my step-son's birthday, even before I saw it myself. Then I got it for myself and was a bit 'let-down'. I'm an avid fan of Daniel-Day-Lewis and thought his portrayal excellent. I thought all the main characters were well-cast and well-played. But there was something to me - at the time - about it all that seemed lack-luster and lacking. Maybe I've followed the Civil War too much over a lifetime and had too inflated a picture of Lincoln. My mother's uncles fought in it on the side of the North (and I've letters they wrote home during the actual war). I grew up in the South but wasn't subjected to many of those pressures for various reasons.

    For whatever reasons, I just found myself unexcited by this movie. Perhaps it was due to other factors at the time I watched it. But now, thanks to your clear, receptive review of it, - I am truly eager to watch it again with a different 'eye' to its merit! Thank you!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    8 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi there drbj!

    Thank you so very much for your kind words. I'm so pleased you enjoyed my review. I agree, Daniel Day-Lewis was so good that you were sucked right into the action as if you were a fly on the wallpaper.

    Thanks much for the votes!

  • drbj profile image

    drbj and sherry 

    8 years ago from south Florida

    This was an excellent review, Liz, of a well-acted historical film. Daniel Day-Lewis is so powerful as the protagonist that you forget he is acting. Voting Up for this hub and for the film!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    8 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Elias Zanetti

    Thank you very much for your nice compliment. I'm most pleased that you liked the review and the film.

  • Elias Zanetti profile image

    Elias Zanetti 

    8 years ago from Athens, Greece

    A great and well written review about a very interesting film.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    8 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, tillsontitan--I'm sure you will enjoy the movie immensely. I use the term "enjoy" rather loosely, given the solemnity of the subject, but it is a very powerful film. It sounds like you have an amazing young man with a bright future for a grandson! Congratulations!

    I humbly bow my head in thanks for your high praise of my review; I'm delighted you found it so worthy. Thanks also for the votes!!

    Hi, billybuc--It was one of the best movies I've ever seen; it qualifies as "epic." I've seen only a handful of such productions. I'm glad you liked my review--thank you.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    8 years ago from Olympia, WA

    I have seen it and I thought it was a remarkable movie. Good job on the review my friend.

  • tillsontitan profile image

    Mary Craig 

    8 years ago from New York

    A movie I want to see and even more now that I've read your great review. I so totally agree with you about bringing history to life so students can relate and better remember.

    On the other hand, my four year old grandson will tell you that "Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves." He (my grandson) is one in a million, as is this review of this movie.

    Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    8 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi Ralph!

    Thanks very much for stopping by. I'm pleased you liked my review and that you also enjoyed the movie.

  • Ralph Deeds profile image

    Ralph Deeds 

    8 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

    Good review. I liked the movie also.


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