Lincoln - Blu-ray Review

'Finally, after nearly two hours of Lincoln wrestling with the same idea, one of his inner circle proclaims, 'I cannot listen to this any more!'. My feelings exactly.'

Like War Horse before it, Lincoln does not see Steven Spielberg operating during his finest hour but, unlike War Horse before it, a less-than-top form Spielberg here cannot pull out an at-least-acceptable film. The truth is that Lincoln is dour, not just in tone but also in pace, plotting, visuals and script. This is a slow-moving, feet-dragging, muddle of a history piece; a film that feels the need to repeat its central conflict more times than it feels the need to put something exciting on screen.

That central conflict is summarised early doors by William Seward (David Strathairn, who is great but who has also been on autopilot since Good Night, And Good Luck). 'It is either the Amendment or this Confederate peace', Seward tells Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis), using a line that also featured in the trailer, 'you cannot have both'.

Fact passed on, Lincoln proceeds to wrestle with this idea. For the following two hours. He wrestles with it on his own, in prophetical anecdotes to rooms full of people, with his wife (Sally Field), with his chief advisers, with Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) and with his adversaries. Finally, after nearly two hours of wrestling with the same idea and with every character in the cast having had just about as much of Lincoln wrestling with the same idea as I had, one of his inner circle proclaims, 'I cannot listen to this any more!'. My feelings exactly.

What little attempt there is to spice up the innate boredom of listening to the same problem repeated over and over again is so ill-handled that it leads to the tone flying all over the place. James Spader is a riot as an ill-mannered lobbyist, charged with ensuring Lincoln gets his amendment (which he cannot have as well as the Confederate peace), but he is from a different film all together, playing the equivalent of a live-action Disney villain. Stick him in 101 Dalmatians and he would not look out of place. The family element too, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as one of Lincoln's sons, desperate to 'do' something in the war, feels tacked on and anonymous.

That element in fact speaks to one of the film's wider failings, and the reason why all of that pondering over the central conflict does not matter one jot: Spielberg never gives us a reason to care about the amendment getting through, or the war being stopped, outside both occurrences obvious and vital contextual resonances. There is just no individuality to either option. There's evidence that, at some point, some thought went into this. David Oyelowo shows up briefly as a sympathetic, strong-minded, solider but he's gone after a scene. Jared Harris is fantastic as Ulysses S. Grant (one of many historical figures reduced to a footnote). He gets, perhaps, three scenes. There's just no-one to invest in. No-one's salvation to pray for.

Day-Lewis, not the first actor to win an Oscar for a great performance in a mediocre film, is significantly committed to his charge and there's no-one else that could have delivered this role the way he does but even he gets lost under swathes and swathes of babbling script and shot after shot of people contemplating, yes, that question, by staring off into the middle distance from behind an antiquated desk. History shouldn't be this dull, or dour.

Lincoln is released on UK Blu-ray and DVD on Monday June 3rd 2013.


  1. I enjoyed watching Lincoln but wasn't that impressed as many were. I agree with the review that they could have spiced things up a little in the movie in stead of listening to the same thing over and over again. The movie was able to enjoy me for a few hours, but didn't stay with me that long.

    1. No, I really struggled with it Rafael. After this and War Horse, I'd really like to see Spielberg go back to something with some inherent excitement.