Screening to a packed audience at the New York Film Festival on Monday night, tweets and reviews for an “almost finished” version of Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” quickly flooded the blogosphere and the reaction was good but not unanimous.
The most frequently praised element was the performances, in particular Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens was frequently singled out as the best bet to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar come next February. Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field were also highly praised for their work.
The most common reaction seems to be that it’s a solid procedural drama, with a surprising amount of outright comedy, that’s certainly worthy of a Best Picture nomination. It also avoids Spielberg’s signature weaknesses of being overwrought and gushingly sentimental. However it’s not a runaway winner and might struggle to achieve recognition outside certain categories.
Here’s some key quotes:
“‘Lincoln’ isn’t all slow and dull. It has occasional sparks, some tremendous actors doing estimable work, and its climax is perhaps the most dynamic and thrilling representation of a body of people voting on any law in the history of film. But it’s also, at least in this unfinished form, not especially remarkable, enjoyable or wholly compelling. ‘Lincoln’ has its moments and is replete with talent, but in its current state, it could use a lot more finessing” – Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist
“The movie’s biggest problem is that when it’s not directly dealing with the campaigning, it’s a very slow movie that takes quite a bit of time to deliver any sort of payoff, and at times, it feels long. There are some great scenes between Day-Lewis and Fields that deliver some real dramatic fireworks. Otherwise, it’s an extremely well written and crafted film that requires quite a bit of patience in order to have any sort of emotional impact, but offers fantastic performances, impressive production design and cinematography… ” – Ed Douglas, Coming Soon
“A surefire player throughout the upcoming awards season, “Lincoln” seems like one of those films where everything comes together in the right way at the right time. Everything about the film is an incredible balancing act – it manages to be dark and yet lighthearted, it offers up both the personal and the political (regularly mixing them), and it questions whether you can do bad in order to do good. It walks a tightrope without ever falling… ” – Josh Lasser, HitFix
“Lincoln isn’t as sentimental as you might expect from Spielberg, and though it never digs deep enough into Lincoln as a man, it’s unafraid to show him as a canny politician… Lincoln veers too often toward becoming a somnolent period piece, but the strong cast and political texture always manage to perk things back up. Though it might have worked better as a tighter, purely political thriller with even less focus on the title character, Lincoln’s smarty-pants pleasures manage to outweigh its stuffy drawbacks… ” – Katey Rich, The Guardian
“”Lincoln” is seriously muted compared to anything Spielberg has done before. “The West Wing” by way of a costume drama, it tracks the abolition of slavery as a series of negotiations with major ramifications only transparently stated in the final scenes. “This is history!” someone actually exclaims. Indeed it is, and with all that talking, “Lincoln” eventually runs out of breath, but not before making it clear that the 65-year-old Spielberg most certainly has not…. ” – Eric Kohn, IndieWire
“It comes off a monstrously mediocre and well worn. For audiences everywhere, brace yourself; “Lincoln” can be a snooze at times… The film is not very dynamic when it comes to filmmaking and direction. This is very odd because it’s Steven Spielberg, the master of driving narratives by editing and camerawork. it’s almost devoid of anything cinematic, as most of it plays as if it were a theater piece instead of a film… ” – Rudie Obias, Shockya.com
“In short, Lincoln appears to be Oscar-bait incarnate. As he did with his most ambitious historical films — Schindler’s List (1993) and Saving Private Ryan (1998) — Spielberg, who has made a career of blurring the line between art and commerce, has risen to the occasion. Although the film runs two hours and twenty-five minutes, every scene felt tight and necessary… ” – Scott Feinberg, The Hollywood Reporter