Four score and 150 minutes ago, Steven Spielberg shifted into his John Ford mode with this giant, myth-bolstering Golden Book of a movie. As the Civil War rages on, we open with a moment lifted from Saving Private Ryan: a shorter, but equally anonymous massacre. Inasmuch as it fails to properly set the mood and tone of this otherwise setbound gabfest, the scene is as spectacularly executed as it is worthless. (As my friend Jim Hemphill said once the initial bloodbath was over, "The closest thing to an action sequence is Tommy Lee Jones taking off his hairpiece.") Moving on, we find Lincoln's ear being bent by a returning black soldier while The Great Emancipator is seated at a railway station. The soldier, after spelling out the future of African-American relations for both the audience and Honest Abe, is conveniently bounced from the proceedings. In his place, comic relief appears in the form of James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson, and John Hawkes. Their schtick feels like a reprise of Sneak, Snoop, and Snitch from Fleischer's animated version of Gulliver's Travels. And what of the rest of the cast, you ask? For the first time in his career, Daniel Day-Lewis lets the costume and the adenoidal voice do much of the acting for him; he needed a little more Bill the Butcher here, and a little less Left Foot. Sally Field performs as if she really wants the Academy to like her again. The good news is that scenarist Tony Kushner's authentic-sounding period dialog flows in abundance, helping to make this the closest I've come to not wanting to walk out on an Amblin production since Catch Me if You Can. You'll want to cheer when, as Number 16 is getting set to spit out yet another platitude, Bruce McGill turns on him with, "No! Not another speech." If the real Lincoln was this dull, can you really blame the South for seceding from the Union? Ultimately, it's Spielberg, with his lumbering pace and "Hall of Presidents" anamorphic tableaus, who assassinates this Lincoln.
Length: 2 hours, 30 minutes