Many HE readers presumably saw Lincoln last night, and are champing at the very bit. But before posting you have to imagine yourself watching the History Channel on a Sunday evening, and at 9 pm a very Lincoln-like drama about the passing of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution comes on. The aspect ratio is boxier, but it’s almost exactly the same thing as Spielberg’s film except it’s an hour shorter and Matthew Modine plays Lincoln instead of Daniel Day Lewis. It wouldn’t be that different of an experience, would it?

New Yorker illustration by Ricardo Martinez.

In the view of New Yorker critic Anthony Lane, Lincoln “is a curious beast. The title suggests a monolith, as if going to this movie were tantamount to visiting Mt. Rushmore, and the running time, of two and a half hours, prepares you for an epic. Yet the film is a cramped and ornery affair, with Spielberg going into lockdown mode even more thoroughly than he did in The Terminal. No one is happier in this fug than Janusz Kaminski, Spielberg’s cinematographer, who veils events in such a rarefied and sifted haze that they seem already poised halfway to myth.

“There is physical conflict [in Lincoln], but it seems perfunctory: first, a murderous opening scrap between black and Confederate regiments, invested by Kaminski with the staccato desperation that he brought to Saving Private Ryan, and then, much later, a corpse-littered battlescape. The true tussle of the movie, however, is between the Spielberg who, like a cinematic Carl Sandburg, is drawn aloft toward legend — hardly an uncommon impulse when dealing with Lincoln — and the Spielberg who is tugged down by Tony Kushner‘s intricate screenplay toward documentary grit. You can never tell which of the two tendencies, the visionary or the revisionist, will come out on top.”

10:50 am Update: A producer friend wrote a few minutes ago and said “you could not be more correct about Lincoln. This is the Emperor’s Clothes film of the year. The thing is glacially-paced…and not 2012 climate-change glaciers, but, say, 1962 glaciers.

“Daniel Day-Lewis is very good, and I suppose he deserves credit for having gotten the ‘real’ Lincoln down rather well (he even gets the Lincoln walk correct). But, really, in the end the performance is a bit of a bore due to the script. Day Lewis plods from room to room, person to person, giving big speeches, small speeches, anecdotes and educating us on Euclid.

“I would have walked out, but it was too packed at the Arclight and there was an African-American next to me weeping throughout and so it seemed unseemly to me to do that.

“I think that there eventually will be a backlash against the film and, in the end, Denzel wins the Oscar.”

Weeping African-American Guy: “Ohh-hoh-hoh…heeeeshh-hee-hee…hee-hee-heesh….weep…weep.” Producer: “Excuse me there, fella. Gotta get by.” Weeping African-American Guy: “I, uh….wait, you’re leaving? I don’t even know you but you’re leaving? What are you made of? You’re walking out on a movie about Abraham Lincoln? Did you vote for Romney? Producer: “It’s a free country, pal…okay? You can weep and moan and make all the noise you want, but this is a slow turgid thing and it’s not doing it for me. And I voted for Obama, if you want to know.”