Opening: Steven Spielberg's LINCOLN Impresses With Restraint and Slow-Burn Intensity

Jim Tudor, Contributor

Steven Spielberg's latest historical epic, Lincoln, opens in the U.S. and Canada in limited release on Friday, November 9, then expands wide next week (November 16). The film is shimmering, obvious Oscar-bait, yes, but also well-earning of any such future accolades. Twitch's own Jason Gorber posted his own glowing review (a terrific piece, well worth your time) several weeks ago. He says:

Lincoln is a film about procedures, showing the sausage-making process behind the crafting of one the most important pieces of legislation ever passed by the American government. The film skirts around many of the more overt moments of the presidency, setting its focus instead on the last four months of the man's life. It's also a film about a man prone to spinning yarns, droning on to those around him with story after story, using the parables to make a given point. This is the rhetorical flair of a trial lawyer, and it's both one of the film's strengths and certainly the element that will be hard for some of the audience to stomach. The quiet, deliberate pace of Lincoln's rhetoric is matched by the film itself, yet the film is at its best when these intimate moments unfold.

(Read Jason's full review of Lincoln here.)

I've also seen the film, and am in nearly complete agreement with my cohort Jason. Lincoln is an impressive film not just for its restraint from Spielberg's usual visual stylizations, but for its slow-burn intensity, engulfing the viewer in the searing passions and political mechanizations that were so intricately tethered to the issue of abolition in America during the Civil War. Although the film effectively is scene after scene of people talking in rooms -- mostly men talking in rooms -- there are no bad scenes, no fat to be trimmed. Lincoln strikes the proper, nearly impossible balance of being both a winning character drama and an engaging political process film. The fact that we're witnessing a highly plausible version of 1865 politics, a time when history was actually being written with lightning, is almost gravy.

Tony Kushner, an acclaimed playwright (Angels in America) and Spielberg screenplay veteran (Munich), brings a certain confident stage-friendliness to the proceedings. Under the sure-handed direction of Spielberg -- finally getting to realize one of his longstanding passion projects -- it's never, ever dull, however. A great portion of that credit must also go to Daniel Day-Lewis, the screen's best Lincoln to date, as well as the spectacular supporting cast, including David Strathairn, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, Hal Holbrook, and James Spader -- not a wrong pick in the bunch.

Spielberg being Spielberg, he rightfully has the greatest talent in the business at the ready for any project he chooses to do. Although he once again utilizes the controlled, glimmering ambiance of his longtime cinematographer Janusz Kaminski to great effect, this aspect is never distracting or artificial. Indeed, through the ambiance, the performances, the art direction, and tone, viewing Lincoln theatrically is like traveling back in time to the end of the Civil War era, watching these events unfold as they actually might have, back room conversations and all.


Check local listings for theaters and showtimes.

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