Steven Spielberg’s much-anticipated Lincoln (which focuses on the debate about what became the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, abolishing slavery) doesn’t enter wide release until this Friday, but it’s already generating overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics, earning a 92% from the aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Here’s a sampling of critical enthusiasm for the work of Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis (adding Lincoln to his repertoire of American characters), and the movie’s writer, playwright Tony Kushner (adapting Doris Kearns Goodwin’s acclaimed popular history Team of Rivals):
- “Lincoln does sometimes get a little sappy around the edges. Though his project here is clearly one of conscious self-restraint, Spielberg can’t resist the occasional opportunity for patriotic tear-jerking, usually signaled by a swell of John Williams’ symphonic score. But in between, there are long stretches that are as quiet, contemplative, and austere as anything Spielberg has ever done.” (Dana Stevens, Slate)
- “Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” does something that, at this very particular moment in time, seems almost impossible to comprehend. It makes politics exciting again…. [Kushner] has penned an epic ensemble about the intersection of democratic process and higher moral thinking, and it’s a rip-roaring entertainment, brain food that’s tasty and good for you.” (Ty Burr, Boston Globe)
- “Spielberg’s Lincoln is a man of undeniably noble intentions, but one not afraid of getting his hands dirty in pursuit of those goals. The true genius of Day-Lewis’ performance is in how he allows just a glimpse at the passion, rage and Machiavellian drive beneath the surface of a man given to telling wry, folksy parables to get his points across.” (Ian Buckwalter, NPR)
- “Go see this movie. Take your children, even though they may occasionally be confused or fidgety. Boredom and confusion are also part of democracy, after all. “Lincoln” is a rough and noble democratic masterpiece — an omen, perhaps, that movies for the people shall not perish from the earth.” (A.O. Scott, New York Times)
If Ann Hornaday (Washington Post) is correct, Spielberg will leave historians feeling satisfied:
Through that strange mix of realism, artifice, intimacy and scope that cinema uniquely possesses, viewers find themselves transported to 19th-century Washington, where Abraham Lincoln — portrayed in a surpassingly sympathetic performance by Daniel Day-Lewis — has just been reelected to a second term….“Lincoln” gratifyingly dodges the kind of safe, starchy hagiography that some Spielberg skeptics feared. Rather, the filmmaker, who has brought Auschwitz and the besieged beaches at Normandy to life with such rigor and detail, proves yet again that he is the best filmmaker currently engaging in the form of assiduous research and creative interpretation known as historical drama.
But we want to know what some Bethel-trained History majors (past and present) think! If you’re planning to see the film this coming weekend and would like to submit your own mini-review of Lincoln, shoot us an e-mail at history-department (at) bethel.edu. (Or post a comment here or on our Facebook page.)
We’ll do our own aggregation and report back before Thanksgiving: do Spielberg, Day-Lewis, Kushner, et al. do justice to this important moment in U.S. history? Does Spielberg prove himself (again) the reigning master of historical drama?
And while you’re waiting for Friday… The Atlantic‘s Ashley Fetters reminded us recently that American popular culture hasn’t always portrayed our 16th president so heroically. Images of Lincoln (on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line — and both sides of the Atlantic Ocean) were quite unflattering before his death…