Spielberg's Lincoln: dull, stuffy and just made for the Oscars

New York film festival-goers see Day-Lewis shine as Abe – but was that a movie or a history lesson?

LAST UPDATED AT 16:05 ON Tue 9 Oct 2012

NEW YORKERS attending the city's annual film festival were treated last night to a surprise screening of Steven Spielberg's unfinished new film Lincoln, a biopic of 19th century American president Abraham Lincoln.

But while the movie is already generating Oscar buzz, critics are divided – is it a dynamic representation of Lincoln's achievements or a rather plonky history lesson?
 
The film stars two-time Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis as Abe Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones, another double Oscar winner, as the powerful Republican congressman Thaddeus Stevens. Sally Field plays Lincoln's wife, Mary Ann, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays his son, Robert.
 
The screenplay is by Pulitzer prize-winner Tony Kushner and the story focuses on the last four months of Lincoln's life, as he works in Washington to end the civil war and pass the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery.
 
The film is due for release in the US on 9 November, having been delayed until after the presidential election (6 November) to avoid candidates seeking to capitalise on Lincoln's legacy.

While critics generally all agree that the "unfinished" film is of a high standard, with standout performances from Day-Lewis and Jones in particular, many find it over-worthy and "unremarkable".
 
Katey Rich in The Guardian called it "uneven" and "stuffy": between the cramped chambers of the White House and the many speeches about constitutional law, the film "can start to feel a little airless".
 
But she praises Spielberg for being "unafraid to show him [Lincoln] as a canny politician willing to bend the law and make enormous compromises to accomplish a greater goal."

Rodrigo Perez at Indiewire says that while Lincoln is "characterised by refreshing restraint", it is "not exactly the most engaging nor well-paced picture" and can be "tedious and trying".
 
Steven Zeitchik in the Los Angeles Times found it "dialogue-heavy, focusing on legislative process and party politics". But while this makes the film overly serious, it is thankfully "devoid of the histrionics and schmaltz that populate some awards contenders".
 
Zeitchik says Day-Lewis "plays the lead role with an understated quality", making him a must for Best Actor nominee at the 2013 Oscars. All agree that Tommy Lee Jones's "scene-stealing" performance makes him a likely Oscar contender, too.
 
Twitter users were divided. Tomris Laffrey tweeted that the film was "beautifully restrained" and that "Jones steals the show". Craig R said Day-Lewis "gives a tour de force performance - too bad the film is a dullish bore."

  • Lincoln is due to open in Britain on 25 January, 2013.

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