Lincoln: Now He Belongs To Our Age   Leave a comment

“This is Kent Brockman with a special bulletin.  The Lincoln squirrel has been assassinated.  We’ll stay with the story all night if we have to!” – Kent Brockman

Top Line: Lincoln is an overly serious ball of cheesy Americana that is mostly but not entirely redeemed by the excellent craftsmanship that went into it.  Trading on the enduring fascination and interest with old Honest Abe, Lincoln paints a hagiographic portrait that is perfectly suited to modern times and modern concerns but still goes down well with popcorn. 

Who (probably) should see this movie: School kids who want an easy day in class for the next twenty years. 

Who (probably) should not see this movie: Neo Confederates? 

Box Score:

Runtime: 2h:29m – Feels about right.  Could’ve been shorter, but there wasn’t a ton of unnecessary filler.

Actual Start Time: Showtime + 18 Minutes

Friday Morning Demographics: 30-40 people.  Big crowd. 

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language

The intense scene of war violence isn’t all that intense, the carnage is very limited, and the language is positively pedestrian. 

Should Be Rated: PG-8

Three Stars:

  1. Daniel Day-Lewis – The Titular Stove Pipe Hat Wearing, Machiavellian, Good Ole Boy President of These United States: 
    Does a fine job of creating a Lincoln who is consistent as a person across a huge number of emotions and situations.  No idea if the man was actually like that or not, but he is very believable as a man here, which is good because he’s central axis of the movie.  All other parts are very minor compared to his.
  2. Tommy Lee Jones – Affectionately Grumpy Abolitionist Congressman:
    Remember when Hollywood discovered that people love to see Tommy Lee Jones talk quickly and loudly?  He gets to do a lot of that here.  By far the most fun of any of the non-Lincoln cast members.
  3. David Strathairn – Lincoln’s Right Hand Man:
    The cool, competent sidekick every super President needs.
Worth Seeing In Theater (Baseline: 2):

  • +3 (This movie has all the makings of a commercial, critical and Oscar nominated success.  You will be hearing about it.)
  • -1 (There really isn’t anything terribly grand or spectacular such that a big screen is really necessary.)

Final Score: 4

Worth Seeing Eventually (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 (Going to be the definitive Lincoln portrayal for a while.)
  • -1 (Not forever, though.)
  • +1 (Entertaining enough that it doesn’t too often feel like a history lesson.)

Final Score: 6

Bechdel (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 (Gloria Reuben gets a couple of decent scenes.)
  • +1 (Sally Field gets the same.)
  • -2 (That’s all but it for female roles, though.)
  • -2 (And it’s a long movie.)

Final Score: 3

IMDb Sez:


  • Steven Spielberg:
    You know, he’s the one time king of Hollywood who has morphed into a rather run of the mill hack in the last fifteen years or so.


  • Tony Kushner:
    Widely beloved playwright whose only previous screenplay was for Munich, which is also probably Spielberg’s best movie of the last decade.
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin:
    Wrote the Lincoln book Team of Rivals upon which this is at least kinda based.

Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: 90% Top Critics: 95% Audience: 83%


  • The audience has definitely got the better sense of things here.  The movie is much to fictionalized and preachy to be genuinely excellent.
  • Like so many tales of Lincoln before, the black cast members show up mostly to remind him of what good he can do and how good he is for doing it.
  • There’s plenty of political catnip for modern Republicans and Democrats, but overall the movie stays safely apolitical.
  • For a movie with a lot of fictionalized scenes and dialogue, it’s kind of annoying that they keep flashing subtitles at us to let us know who each character is, where we are, and what the date is. 
  • Lincoln was a storyteller, and the movie doesn’t miss a single opportunity to have him spin some homely, funny, and wise yarn about whatever happens to be going on.  For the most part, these are the best things in the film. 
  • The movie only really begins to drag near the end, when it ascends the pulpit to do things like have a reluctant Congressman shamefacedly admit that he’s prejudiced, have the newly passed amendment read out loud by a black woman who we’ve learned (completely off screen, of course) has had some hand in its passage, and for a true clunker of a scene where Sally Field basically looks right at the camera to advocate for the historical misunderstanding of Mary Todd Lincoln.  It’s difficult to tell whether the educational piety or the moralistic piety is hammier. 
  • Spielberg at least hasn’t lost his touch for inserting comedy here and there to keep things at least somewhat light.

Bottom Line: Lincoln is a mostly well written and consistently well acted period piece that is everything you’d expect from the Spielberg school of American history.  Along those lines, it is also more than a little preachy (sometimes very clumsily so), which is why the Rotten Tomatoes audience score seems much more appropriate than the rather more fawning critic scores. 

That said, Daniel Day-Lewis is as excellent as you’d expect.  The part is a bit too saintly to be as much fun as some of his other notable recent triumphs, but he has created a character who never seems out of place even as the movie follows him to such disparate locales as quiet moments with his wife and kids, an army hospital, General Grant’s headquarters, and many others.  That rather remarkable feat carries the movie in a lot of places even has those around him are acting out sometimes very cliched minor roles. 

You can see this most often in the way so many people, from all walks of life, sit rapturously and listen to his insightful parables.  Day-Lewis makes them a pleasure to take in, even as they begin to seem as repetitive as a public service announcement. 

None of which is to say that Lincoln is a bad movie.  It’s quite good, and the audience I was with laughed along with the jokes and paid strict attention during the serious parts.  But holy shit does it take itself seriously, and there’s no escaping the sense of patronizing infotainment that comes along with serious historical movies like this one. 

What Lincoln succeeds in unequivocally, however, is to bring the man into modern times by telling a story that has him brush up against enough contemporary formulations and political traps to make us pine for a leader so perfectly suited.  He is pure of heart, but crafty and cunning.  He is farsighted and noble, but bawdy and approachable.  He is, above all else, “Presidential” in the way that so many political pundits yearn for.  The Lincoln of Lincoln would’ve easily swept aside any presidential candidate of the last fifty years so exactly does he fit the mold of idealistic yet compromising, magical and effective.  It’s an engaging portrait, and one that’s entertaining to watch.  It’s just a bit spoiled by the way the movie thinks of itself as being as flawless as its titular hero.  

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before Lincoln:

Gangster Squad – Meh.  Looks a bit too dumb to be that self-serious.  We’ll see.

Les Miserables – Someday middle-brow culture will stop obsessing over the ever booming echoes of the French Revolution.  That day has not yet come.

Not Fade Away – A story about Baby Boomers rebelling against their parents.  I feel like I’ve seen this several dozen times before.

Parental Guidance – Another story about Baby Boomers rebelling, but this time against their kids. 

Promised Land – Get ready for a shit ton of terrible newspaper, blog and magazine articles about this.  At least the cast is solid.

Oz the Great and Powerful Trailer – A few more of these and I’ll have sat through the entire runtime of the movie before we get anywhere near March 2013. 

The Lone Ranger – Did they have to actually paint Johnny Depp’s face white?  This movie should be called Jack Sparrow’s Revenge

WARNING: The comments section is a spoiler friendly zone.  By reading this with your inner monologue, you have waved any right to bitch about spoilers in perpetuity throughout the universe.

Posted November 16, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Box Score Cinema, The Simpsons

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