The new movie about Abraham Lincoln that premiered at theaters throughout the country on Friday has been getting great reviews, especially for a film whose plot revolves around the enactment of the 13th Amendment.
"To say that this is among the finest films ever made about American politics may be to congratulate it for clearing a fairly low bar," writes New York Times (reg. req.) and the critic A.O. Scott, noting that Hollywood tends to simplify and look down on the political process.
However, in addition to showcasing what many reviewers describe as excellent performances by Daniel Day-Lewis, as the famous U.S. president, and Sally Field, as Lincoln's wife, Mary, the movie also offers a unique, in-depth portrait of Lincoln as a complex individual waging a political battle in 1865 to get the House of Representatives to outlaw slavery, according to a lengthy review by Chris Williams for the Advisor & Source newspapers.
"He's a man frustrated and wearied by four years of war, and the film never paints him as a saint," writes Williams. "We watch as the President debates whether to pursue a quicker end to the Civil War or allow it to stretch on until the Amendment passes--a delay that would mean more American deaths. We see him muse about whether he properly used his wartime powers and even what, exactly, those powers truly are. He gets riled up when it looks like the Amendment may fail and he's not above playing the politician when the situation calls for it; a character near the film's end says that the 13th Amendment was passed "through corruption, and aided and abetted by the purest man in America."
Reviewers for the Columbus Dispatch and the New York Post also liked the movie but are less bowled over by it.
Writing for the Dispatch, Frank Gabrenya praises the performances by Day-Lewis and Field, but describes the film as overly focused on "a series of contentious arguments in small rooms and attempts to buy or coerce affirmative votes from reluctant congressmen." While the script isn't bad and the scenes feel authentic, he writes, "the dramatic effect is choppy and uneven, and Lincoln is off-screen too much in a movie named for him."
In the Post, Lou Lumenick also praises Day-Lewis and says a scene-stealing performan by Tommy Lee Jones as a cantakerous abolitionist, Thaddeus Stevens, is the best one in the film. However, he deducts points for the "wonky script" and says his eyes began to glaze during "an exposition-laden first hour, which introduces an army of characters played by what seems like half the over-40 membership of the Screen Actors Guild."