Outstanding drama about revered leader's political genius.
Parents recommendPopular with kids
  • Review Date: November 8, 2012
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2012
  • Running Time: 150 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Lincoln is a tribute to a president who took leadership seriously and knew that, for the United States to continue, slavery would need to be abolished -- even if he wasn't personally a die-hard supporter of equal rights. There are also messages about work-life balance, letting children make their own choices, and realizing that all people have worth and a right to their freedom.

Positive role models

Lincoln is shown to be a thoughtful, intelligent, generous man who, while not as pro-equality as the abolitionists, is definitely insistent that the country abolish slavery. But he's not depicted as perfect: He's willing to play the political game of patronage (giving lame-duck Democrats political appointments) in exchange for getting the 13th Amendment passed. Thaddeus Stevens is the most progressive congressman, and he wants nothing short of total equality. The movie doesn't sit in judgment of or demonize the Confederates or Democrats who don't want to abolish slavery; they're depicted as closed-minded men who just can't fathom changing their way of life.


Scenes of the Civil War are mostly shown in passing, but there's definitely carnage -- including bodies lying dead across battlefields. Mentions of casualties upset the president and his Cabinet. In an Army hospital, amputee soldiers greet the president, and then two soldiers bury a barrel full of severed limbs -- making Robert Todd Lincoln (and likely many viewers) sick. Although we don't see Lincoln's assassination, he's displayed dead, with a pool of blood surrounding him.


Mary and Abraham Lincoln embrace.


As would have been accurate for the era, the words "Negroes," "coons," "coloreds," and "n-----s" are used to describe African Americans. Other strong language is peppered throughout and includes two uses of "f--k," plus "s--t," "bulls--t," "ass," "goddamn," "crap," "damn," "hell," "son of a bitch," and "oh my God."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Characters drink liquor (some to excess) and smoke cigars, pipes, and hand-rolled cigarettes (accurate for the era).

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Steven Spielberg's Lincoln isn't a biographical chronicle of Abraham Lincoln's (Daniel Day-Lewis) life in office but rather a political drama about the passing of the 13th Amendment and the end of the Civil War. The most sensitive issues in the movie are its depiction of war (severed limbs and bloody battlefields filled with dead soldiers are seen) and occasional strong language, including many era-accurate (but hard to hear today) racial epithets. But overall, the violence is much tamer than in war movies like Saving Private Ryan or Glory, and Lincoln is an educational, entertaining drama that even some mature 5th graders might be ready to handle, if they watch with their parents. (That said, it does move somewhat slowly, so kids hooked on fast-paced entertainment may not be interested.)

What's the story?

It's 1865. President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) has just been reelected, and it's clear that the Confederacy isn't likely to survive another spring in the ongoing Civil War. But before Lincoln can embrace the likelihood of the South's surrender, he wants -- seemingly more than anything -- to pass the 13th Amendment and definitively outlaw slavery in the entire Union. With the help of Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn), Lincoln hires three political negotiators (James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson, and John Hawkes) to convince at least 20 of the House of Representatives' Democrats (who staunchly oppose the amendment) to vote for the bill (usually in exchange for patronage positions). Meanwhile, in his personal life, Lincoln faces more issues of compromise and sacrifice with his emotional wife, Mary (Sally Field), and his desperate-to-enlist son, Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

Is it any good?


Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's award-winning book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, LINCOLN is more about the political intrigue of Lincoln's final months than a "biopic" about his personal life. Day-Lewis' performance is a brilliant character study of a legendary man. Unlike the over-the-top characters Day-Lewis played in Gangs of New York and There Will Be Blood, his President Lincoln is an introspective man who tells stories that sound like parables and who exudes a powerful dignity, even in silence. As Mary Todd Lincoln, Field makes a passionate case for the First Lady's instability, stemming from the overwhelming grief of losing son Willie.

But one of the most startling performances in the film, which is so eloquently scripted by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner, is courtesy of Tommy Lee Jones as Stevens. The uncompromising abolitionist congressman wants complete racial equality -- not just the legal extinction of slavery -- but even he knows that change sometimes comes in baby steps, not revolution. There's no better film to watch to pay witness to how even our country's greatest historical leaders still had to make quid pro quo overtures across party lines to move forward.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about why President Lincoln is still considered one of the most influential presidents of all time. What is the continued relevance of the 13th Amendment?

  • How does the movie's depiction of President Lincoln compare to what you know or have learned about him? Did anything surprise you about his political or personal life?

  • What does the movie tell us about how politics have changed since the 1860s? Do politicians still have to work together and make compromises, even if they fundamentally disagree?

  • How closely do you think Lincoln adheres to history? How many liberties with the facts do you think a movie like this can take? Why might filmmakers decide to do that?

  • How does Mary Todd Lincoln's emotional fragility -- in no small part spurred by the fear of one of her remaining sons going to fight in the war that her husband considers necessary -- impact Lincoln's situation?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:November 9, 2012
DVD release date:March 26, 2013
Cast:Daniel Day-Lewis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sally Field
Director:Steven Spielberg
Run time:150 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language
Awards:Academy Award, Golden Globe

This review of Lincoln was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Parent Written byctjbush November 25, 2012

Foul language in the land of Lincoln.

There were too many G-- D---s in the early part of the movie. Terrible. Then my kids and I left the theater when someone on-screen dropped the F-Bomb. Totally uncalled for.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Teen, 14 years old Written byFILMCRITIC500 November 18, 2012

slow, masterful, and graphic drama will grip history buffs but not action freaks

this incredily slow drama about the sixteenth president may be boring at some points, but it rivals with spectacular cinematography, impressive acting (except Daniel Day-Lewis), and great sets and costumes. there is also some amount of violence, which is very graphic and realistic. the opening scene shows soldiers stabbing, slicing, cutting, and crushing others in a battlefield. another scene shows burning houses, which then goes into a prolonged scene of Lincoln riding through a battlefield srewn with dead bodies. the worst scene is where two men push a cart that is dripping blood to a pit and empty a large stack of severed limbs. there is also a LOT of strong language, including one f**k, several N words, s**t, a*s,bit**, and more. also, many characters smoke heavily.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Parent of a 9 and 13 year old Written byjillyme November 16, 2012

Wonderful, historic film

My children (ages 13 & 9) loved this movie. My twins declared it the best film they had ever seen, and my younger son sat through the whole thing with much interest. There are cuss words, most of which my youngest did not pick up due to the accents of the characters, and a few war scenes, the worse one being at the beginning of the movie. Also be aware that the trailers shown before the film were highly innapropriate. I kept my kids out of the theatre for them, and I am glad I did. The movie is long and slow paced. If your kid is not interested in the history or if they are highly sensitive I would hold off on it. The film is very moving though, and I recommend it for all kids 12 and up, younger if they are highly interested in the subject.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing


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