REVIEW ROUND-UP: ‘Lincoln’ Astonishes at NYFF Secret Screening

Though Film Misery’s coverage of New York Film Festival has wound itself down, the festival body still continues to surge on in unexpected ways. It was no surprise when it was announced that there would be a work-in-progress “secret screening” at the festival, just as the same with Hugo last year. After a short lived joust of guessing between Les Miserables and Zero Dark Thirty, it was announced ahead of time that none other than Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln would grace the stage. It was something of a surprise, give that the film is slated for an “official premiere” at AFI Fest, but leave it to exiting festival coordinator Richard Pena to show everyone up on his way out. Getting down to the film in question, did this debut spark the adoration needed to carry the film smoothly into Oscar season?

I doubt Spielberg had any Oscar ambitions regarding last year’s War Horse, which received no festival placement and was released at the dead end of the year. That cut off its Oscar chances pretty definitely, especially given the continuous advancement of nomination ballot submissions.  Lincoln, on the other hand, has Oscar bait written all over it, with a prime placement in early November and now two festival plays to its name. And to return to the question at hand, yes, Spielberg’s latest has ignited the proper enthusiasm to become a strong player in the season. It would have been a given for some big Oscar nods anyway, as the Academy has frequently fawned over Spielberg’s recognizable style, but having audience support on your side isn’t such a terrible thing either. Even in unfinished form, Eric Kohn of Indiewire says it proves to be better than the trailer had alluded.

Aided by Kushner’s script, “Lincoln” is seriously muted compared to anything Spielberg has done before. “The West Wing” by way of a costume drama, it tracks the abolition of slavery as a series of negotiations with major ramifications only transparently stated in the final scenes. “This is history!” someone actually exclaims. Indeed it is, and with all that talking, “Lincoln” eventually runs out of breath, but not before making it clear that the 65-year-old Spielberg most certainly has not.

Katey Rich of CinemaBlend continues the positive stream, but with plenty reservations regarding the film’s ever-relevant Oscar chances.

The best moments of Lincoln are satisfying and often very funny, but there are no emotional heights or applause moments, and very little of the twinkly Spielberg sentimentality that drowned out War Horse. Lincoln probably could have used a little more of that, actually, but it’s very much in-step with its rock-steady protagonist, a man full of funny stories and aphorisms but rarely feeling more human than the marble statue we’re all familiar with. For all its period polish Lincoln is almost certainly a Best Picture nominee, but that restraint will probably keep it from winning– and will probably prevent Day-Lewis from winning too, as much as I expect his toned-down performance will grow in my estimation the further I get away from it.

Most ecstatically positive on the film is Matt Patches of Hollywood.com, hailing the craft of the film nearly as much as the performances.

Spielberg’s technical team once again wows and echoes the lead performance. Director of Photography Janusz Kaminski’s contrasting photography, near chiaroscuro, makes the beautiful set and production design hyper real and highlights the actors’ aging faces. Composer John Williams returns once again, but with a score as low-key as Day-Lewis’ character — a change of pace when compared to War Horse. It’s all up to par with Spielberg’s past work without turning Lincoln into a flashy period drama.

And topping thing off with a heavy dose of realism is David Ehrlich of Movies.com, speaking for the faction of viewers who have likely grown tired of Spielberg’s style after all these years, while still finding room to praise the performances, particularly of Daniel Day-Lewis.

…whenever things become so scattered or prosaic that it feels like you’re watching an ill-begotten sequel to Amistad, Daniel Day-Lewis shows up to set the ship straight. To the surprise of exactly no one, Day-Lewis inhabits the guy like he’s already spent 52 years in his shriveled skin. Oscar season’s favorite chameleon, Day-Lewis absolutely disappears beneath that famous hat and beard — his Lincoln is immediately more of a human than an icon, a man like any other save for his virtue and his task. He’s wry and contemplative, a windbag prone to stories that were longer than his speeches.

Oscar Chances

Sure as the sun will rise, even with the divisive reaction Spielberg often raises with his films nowadays, the Academy will almost always be in favor of such historically bound pieces as Lincoln. Having a titanic lead performance at the hand aids the film’s likability factor, as it does Day-Lewis’ inevitable nomination. Of the ensemble angle, it seems that Tommy Lee Jones is much more prevalent than Sally Field. Tech nominations galore!

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