Lincoln (2012)

A review - by Shlomoh Sherman
November 19, 2012

Lincoln (2012)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Tony Kushner (screenplay), Doris Kearns Goodwin (book) (in part)
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn - See more of cast below
Genres: Biography - Drama - History - War
Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)
Rated PG-13 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language
Country: USA - India
Language: English
Release Date: November 16, 2012 (USA)
Filming Locations: New Millennium Studios - One New Millennium Drive, Petersburg, Virginia, USA
Company Credits -
Production Co: DreamWorks Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Reliance Entertainment
Runtime: 149 min
Sound Mix: Dolby Digital
Trivia -
During the three and a half months of filming, Steven Spielberg addressed his actors in character: he called Daniel Day-Lewis "Mr. President," and Sally Field "Mrs. Lincoln," or "Molly." Additionally, he wore a suit every day on set: "I think I wanted to get into the role, more than anything else, of being part of that experience - because we were recreating a piece of history. And so I didn't want to look like the schlubby, baseball cap wearing 21st century guy; I wanted to be like the cast."
Goofs -
Continuity: When Thaddeus Stephens (Tommy Lee Jones) takes the copy of the 13th Amendment from the House clerk, he folds it with the left and right sides of the paper meeting. When he opens it again later, the paper has been folded the other way (with top and bottom meeting).
Quotes -
Abraham Lincoln: Shall we stop this bleeding?
Referenced in "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno: Episode #21.36" (2012) See more »
Ponderings -
Does this film establish who Lincoln really was?
1865 reality versus the 2012 Hollywood myth
Interracial Bed Scene
Discuss Lincoln (2012) on the IMDb message boards
Plot Summary: As the Civil War continues to rage, America's president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield and as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.

I have only read one review of LINCOLN and it was a negative one in which it criticized Spielberg for doing a poor job with historical films. The FORWORD's critical review can be read at
My own review of this absorbing film follows after a few brief remarks mentioning previous films about Lincoln which you may want to see and compare them to this latest one. I also will make some remarks abut what kind of man Abraham Lincoln was in real life.


Wikipedia tells us that "The first known motion picture based on Mr. Lincoln was 1908 film The Reprieve: An Episode in the Life of Abraham Lincoln. Directed by Van Dyke Brooke, the film shows Lincoln pardoning a sentry who fell asleep on duty."  There is a scene depicting this episode in the Spielberg film under review as well.

In 1930, D. W. Griffith produced a biographical film about Lincoln simply called "Abraham Lincoln".
"Young Mr. Lincoln" with Henry Fonda was released in 1939.
Raymond Massey portrayed Lincoln in the 1940 film "Lincoln in Illinois."
"Abe Lincoln in Illinois" was dramatized as an hour-long radio play on the April 22, 1940 broadcast of Lux Radio Theater, again starring Raymond Massey as Lincoln.
I am sure that there have been many other depictions of Lincoln by various actors whom I have not researched.

Not having seen any of the previously mentioned four films, I am unable to compare the portrayals with that of Daniel Day-Lewis. Those of you who are familiar with the many films of Mr. Day-Lewis know him to be a very talented actor, and despite the fact that I am somewhat peeved that Spielberg chose a British actor to portray our 16th president, I must tell you that Daniel Day-Lewis' performance was brilliant.


Abraham Lincoln came into office at the most trying period of our nation's history. He was a Southerner, and although most Sountherners were sympathetic to the Democratic Party, Lincoln chose to become a Republican. Although Lincoln was not an admirerer of slavery, his early focus was not so much on abolition as on keeping the United States of America, the country he loved passionately, united. To this end, he wished to see the Confederates as his fellow countrymen who had gone astray rather than as enemies. Lincoln once remarked that the Civil War was God's punishment on both North and South for tolerating human bondage.

The measure of who Lincoln was can best be seen in the words of his address commemorating the cemetary for fallen soldiers at Gettysburg. In early July, 1863, Union and Confederate forces met on the outskirts of the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in a 3 day long battle in which over 57,000 men were killed. After the battle, it took 6 months to clear the field of dead horses and mules, and it could not have been a welcome task for those engaged in it during July, August, and September. Gettysburg was the turning point of the war after which the Confederacy received defeating blow after blow until its ultimate defeat two years later. Although at the time, no one knew this and some have heaped scorn on Robert E. Lee for continuing what was soon becoming evident as a lost cause. Gettysburg shocked the North. The unthinkable had happened. The South successfully invaded the North. It was the first and last time that the war would be fought above the Mason-Dixon Line.

On November 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery, Gettysburg, Lincoln delivered his world famous address. I present the text together with my own comments.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Lincoln opens his remarks with the rationale for the current war. That is that 87 years prior, the nation, at its birth, declared that all men are created equal, and the goal of the war was to bring about the equality spoken in that declaration. Prior to Lincoln, Americans prized the Constitution as the nation's most glorious document. After his address, that distinction was shifted to the Declaration of Independence which had been ratified four score and seven years prior.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

All the fallen, northerners and southerners are to be buried at the Soldiers' National Cemetery. The statement that we are engaged in a civil war underscores the idea that one nation is fighting, brother against brother, rather than two enemy nations one against the other.

We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

Both northerners and southerners have given their lives to ensure the life of the one nation, and it is therefore fitting that they be buried together in one resting place.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

All fallen soldiers, Union and Confederate, have hallowed the ground by the sacrifice of their lives and limbs.

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

The world has remembered these words of Lincoln far better than the actual events of the battle.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain,

All who faught here, northerner and southerner, were noble in their dedication to freedom, and the living have to honor them for their devotion to a cause they each believed in. They died and we must not allow their death to be in vain.

—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The one nation shall have a divine rebirth so that it shall not perish. The deaths of the brave ones will keep alive a people's government.

After the horrific battle, Lincoln might have cast blame on the South. But that was not who he was. His speech shows that he felt humbled by the deaths of southerners as well as northerners. Had he not been murdered, the whole course of Reconstruction would have been different, more forgiving than vengeful, and the animosity of south towards north would have disappeared long before the mid 20th century, and modern race relations would have been more cordial.

THE FILM -- based on the Lincoln biography, A TEAM OF RIVALS by Doris Kearns Goodwin

It is 1865 and Lincoln has just been re-elected to a second term. Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation during his first term but he doubted that this document would be effective in bringing about abolition. The Confederacy was now suing for peace, at last realizing there was no way the South could win the war. Jefferson Davis had sent three representatives to Washington to discuss an armistice but Lincoln was not interested in armistice. He was only interested in southern surrender. His immediate concern was the passage of the 13th amendment, officially ending slavery. He wanted it passed before the southern states rejoined the Union so that it would be binding on the south as well as the north.

The major part of the film deals with Lincoln's struggle to get the amendment passed in the face of opposition from Democratic Party congressmen as well as opposition from members of his own Republican Party.

Thaddeus Stevens, admirably played by Tommy Lee Jones, congressman from Pennsylvania, a Republican leader and one of the most powerful members of the United States congress, acts as Lincoln's enforcer, pleading, cajoling, threatening his fellow congressmen to pass the amendment. After much political pressure, the amendment is passed

There are various subplots; Lincoln's domestic problems with his very volatile wife, Mary Todd, superbly played by Sally Field, the conflict between son Robert and his parents when the son expresses his wish to join the army, Lincoln's warm relationship with his political colleagues, and Lincoln's assassination which is mercifully not shown.

Suzanne and I had to choose a film to see and we agreed on Lincoln, a very long 149 minute wordy event. The film is a dialogue driven piece rather than action driven. and at times, people were restless in their seats. Both the script and the acting are top notch and it was a pleasure to see some of my favorite actors make this movie a success. Among which are Sally Field, David Strathairn, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, and Tommy Lee Jones. Of course, who does not love Steven Spielberg who has given us the likes of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, SCHINDLER'S LIST, E.T.: THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, JAWS, and the TV movie DUEL.

I'm not exactly sure what critics can say about LINCOLN that is negative. But then, I'm not a professional movie reviewer so you just get my lay opinion. If you have the time and the inclination, see the movie. You could spend your money in less satisfying ways.

By the way, Thanksgiving Day is this week, and remember, it was Abraham Lincoln who proclaimed it a national holiday.

Euclid, OH
November 19, 2012

Cast overview, first billed only:

Daniel Day-Lewis ... Abraham Lincoln
Sally Field ... Mary Todd Lincoln
David Strathairn ... William Seward
Joseph Gordon-Levitt ... Robert Lincoln
James Spader ... W.N. Bilbo
Hal Holbrook ... Preston Blair
Tommy Lee Jones ... Thaddeus Stevens
John Hawkes ... Robert Latham
Jackie Earle Haley ... Alexander Stephens
Bruce McGill ... Edwin Stanton
Tim Blake Nelson ... Richard Schell
Joseph Cross ... John Hay
Jared Harris ... Ulysses S. Grant
Lee Pace ... Fernando Wood
Peter McRobbie ... George Pendleton

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