It's finally here: Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, which chronicles the last few months of Abraham Lincoln's life, has hit theaters in limited release today — and Daniel Day-Lewis' performance in the title role is earning the flood of raves many critics has predicted. (Watch a trailer below.) Those same critics have pegged the famously committed Method actor, who's already won two Academy Awards, as an early Oscar favorite for his depiction of the iconic president. The awards ceremony won't air until February of 2013 — but should the Academy just go ahead and engrave Day-Lewis' name on the Best Actor statuette now?
Day-Lewis is essentially a lock — and rightly so: "Get your Oscar bets in early, because we may have a winner," says Justin Craig at Fox News. Day-Lewis brilliantly offers a Lincoln that is "subtle, elegant, poignant, and always commanding." Perhaps most impressively, while most pop-cultural depictions of Lincoln fail to "bring the iconic figure out of the history texts and humanize him," Day-Lewis finds the real man behind the legend: A bold, compassionate leader, but also a "sly salesman," a "loving father," and "an argumentative husband."
"Lincoln: Did Daniel Day-Lewis just win the Oscar?"
And he holds the sprawling Lincoln together: Day-Lewis' performance ensures that this potentially preachy "political essay is grounded in a character study just as nuanced," says Rick Groen at Canada's The Globe and Mail. The actor captures the 16th president's legendarily fiery oration, but he also "lightens the film with surprising bursts of comedy," juggling "all these conflicting facets" of Lincoln and making them cohere into a single man.
"Lincoln: A wordy but riveting piece of political drama"
But his performance is stronger than the rest of the film: Day-Lewis mesmerizes as Honest Abe, but that's not enough to "rescue Spielberg's misguided drama from the dry, bony clutches of mediocrity," says Sean O'Connell at CinemaBlend. Lincoln "only comes alive on the rare occasions that Day-Lewis is able to express, with convincing fervor, Lincoln's desire to heal his torn and tattered Union." The rest of the film is slower and duller, as "a near-comical [number] of mustachioed thespians" debate an amendment we all know will succeed. Lincoln is an "admirable history lesson" — but a disappointing movie.
Consensus: The film's flaws aside, Day-Lewis should start writing a fiery Oscar acceptance speech.