Steven Spielberg's historical drama Lincoln 'a masterpiece'

Jan 25, 2013

Spielberg surprises critics with 'mesmerising' political drama, thanks to Daniel Day-Lewis

What you need to know
Stephen Spielberg's historical drama Lincoln, about President Abraham Lincoln's efforts to abolish slavery, opens in Britain today. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln, the film is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's biography of Lincoln, Team of Rivals adapted for the screen by Tony Kushner.

The film focuses on the final months of Lincoln's life. As the Civil War draws to an end, the President fights to have the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, which would formally abolish slavery, passed by the House of Representatives.

Sally Field plays Lincoln's wife and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Lincoln's son. There are also appearances by Tommy Lee Jones and James Spader. The film has been nominated for 12 Oscars including best actor for Day-Lewis.

What the critics like
This is landmark film-making, says Ian Nathan in Empire. Spielberg demands your concentration, but the film is not a slog - "it's compelling, full of beauty, overflowing with personality", and often very funny.

Spielberg's "mesmerising" collaboration with a great actor (Day-Lewis) and visionary writer (Tony Kushner), brings us a film that's "emotional, visceral and intellectual", says Andrew O'Hehir on Salon.

Lincoln is "a snapshot of a great man that never slips into a portrait of sainthood", says Dave Calhoun in Time Out. It's "a masterpiece of miniature portraiture" that also "throws us into the heart of the frenzied horse-trading of this critical moment in American history".

What they don't like
It isn't as sentimental as you might expect from Spielberg, says Katey Rich in The Guardian. Though it "veers too often toward becoming a somnolent period piece", the strong cast and political texture manage to perk things up.

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I'm willing to believe it's great, but I'd beware of basing a story on critical reaction to a film on reviews by Empire and Salon - they praise almost anything!