"Lincoln" is overrated as a flick. One gauge by which I judge a movie is whether it is worth full-price, only matinee price, or nothing. I am glad I paid matinee.
Paul Ogden has written a truncated view of the film. While he seems rather indignant over the experience (I think because he scrimped on popcorn and soda; really—is he an American? Anyone seen his birth certificate? Let me know), I think the movie was over-written and dragged. I thought the flick was good at times. Here are the reasons for my opinion:
1) Ambivalence of white Americans toward the issue of slavery/abolition was portrayed not unfairly. The Civil War was fought because very wealthy interests in the South (a handful of owners of large plantations on which hundreds of slaves worked primarily at the harvest of cotton) were afraid Lincoln (who, when elected, refrained from a push for abolition) would free the slaves and cost them a lot of money. Those States seceded from the Union. Wealthy citizens of the northern States wanted to preserve the Union for the profits this country had begun to reap in world markets. Only later in the War did slavery become the sine qua non for the end of the fight.
2Lincoln had too many speeches. I do not mean Lincoln was shown making speeches to audiences too many times. Those instances were few and relatively fleeting. I mean he made too many speeches to individuals. Lincoln was fond of telling stories. He was famous for doing so. The screen writers could have placed those instances more effectively in dialogue. I had the feel that Daniel Day Lewis (worthy of a nomination, maybe not an Oscar) had to memorize long passages while his fellow cast members did a few lines here and there.
3) There should have been more action. I do not mean there should have been car (or carriage) chases. I mean there should have been more dramatic action. The scenes in the House of Representatives were interesting and helped salvage this aspect. Tommy Lee Jones’s character, Thaddeus Stevens, at first was entertaining in the manner in which he leveled insults at fellow members of the House in debate. The second and third times he did so, the effect was stale. But when the argument in the cabinet boiled down to Lincoln slamming his hands onto the table and demanding the 13th Amendment be passed—okay. How? He had been a member of the House. He had no specific recommendations?
4) James Spader played a good fixer/scumbag and provided comic relief. He deserves a nomination for Best Supporting Actor/Libertine.
5) In the flick, Grant at Appomattox was in a clean uniform, as was Robert E. Lee. In reality, Grant, whose own clothes were filthy, had to borrow a uniform, to the shoulders of which his badges of ranks quickly were affixed. Lee had appeared in immaculate attire. There are some nuances of history that some people feel are important. I think the contrast of the austere, precise (defeated) Lee with the dirty and exhausted (but victorious) Grant is important. It removes history from a sort of ivory piece on a marble base and sets it in the real world.
6) For this last stated reason the film had positives. I liked how the film makers tried to weave Lincoln’s personal and family life into the story. The lighting was appropriate, too. The whale oil lamps that were used at the time did not throw out a lot of light. Rooms were dingy. People did not bathe very often. More military personnel died from camp diseases (e.g., dysentery) than battlefield wounds.
Overall, I would recommend one see this flick at the matinee. The filming is great and worth the effort to see it on the Big Screen. I do not believe it is a cinematic classic. And btw—I’m glad Ogden admitted he fell asleep a couple of times. I thought I heard him snore. I thought it might have been the ring tone on his cell.