Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln reviews – the critics’ reaction

It may be tipped for Oscar success, but what do reviewers make of Daniel Day-Lewis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field in the Abraham Lincoln biopic...

Steven Spielberg’s latest film – which is widely considered as an Oscar contender – made a surprise appearance at the New York Film Festival on Monday night. 


The film, which stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, follows the 16th President of the United States as he comes to the end of his tenure during the American Civil War amidst the fight to abolish slavery. 

This latest offering from the War Horse director – which also stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field – isn’t due for release until 9 November in America and 25 January 2013 in the UK so reviews are still few and far between. 

But here’s a round up of what the critics have been saying so far. Is the historical drama worthy of all the awards hype..? 

Giving the biopic four out of five stars, The Guardian says: “With John Williams’s gentle score, posh cinematography from Janusz Kaminski and a whole load of big costumes and facial hair for the cast, 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.”

While The Hollywood Reporter critic Scott Feinberg adds fuel to the Oscar fire, stating: “Based on my own evaluation of the film and its prospects, I expect it will be a sure shot for Academy Award nominations for best picture, best director and best actor for two-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis”

He then goes on to compare Lincoln with some of Spielberg’s biggest screen successes, writing, “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, 25 minutes, every scene felt tight and necessary…”

The New York Daily News calls the film an “often moving, sometimes teacherly thinking-man’s epic.” 

While The Huffington Post describes Lincoln as an “impeccably detailed production,” adding, “The standout, however, is Daniel Day-Lewis’ work as Lincoln, an unsurprisingly immense achievement that mixes historical accuracy… and thoughtful emotion.”

Indeed critics seem to be in agreement when it comes to the film’s leading man: 

The LA Times praises Day-Lewis – whose other film credentials include My Left Foot and There Will Be Blood – saying: “Judging by both the events on-screen and in the room, Day-Lewis, a longtime Oscar favorite, solidified his status as a lead actor contender. He plays the lead role with an understated quality, often speaking in quiet, lyrical tones instead of the more scenery-chewing moments glimpsed in the trailer.”

While states: “the motivating force of “Lincoln” belongs to its leading man, whose screen presence is a wonder to behold even when he says nothing.” agrees, stating that “Day-Lewis channels the steely determined sage of a still young country on the brink of disintegrating.”

But not all reviews have been wholly positive…

David Ehrlich of has called the film a “bloated” and “musty” legal drama, saying: “Had the film buckled down on Lincoln, it could have been a remarkable study of a good man who gamed the system in order to better the world, but the film’s outsized vision makes it feel like a problematically narrow portrait of a nation fighting for the ideals upon which it was founded.”

But even he concedes that the film is saved by Day-Lewis whose performance is “so hypnotizing and human it could be confused for a resurrection.” 


Watch a trailer for the film here: