There are several very good scenes buried in this overlong, overly explanatory movie. One of my favorite scenes is Lincoln’s young son looking at photographic glass plates by candle light. (Technical note: Those should have been negatives, not positives, shouldn’t they?)
On the other extreme, there was an unfortunate scene where white Union soldiers try to recite the Gettysburg Address to Lincoln from memory and botch the job. After they leave, a black soldier finishes the recitation flawlessly. My criticism is that the scene is too “on the nose” -- meaning it bangs hard on the most obvious emotional note in the most obvious way, on top of which it’s a cheat for modern audiences who, if they know anything that Lincoln wrote, they know that speech.
This “on the nose” mawkish awkwardness is a common failing in movies directed by Steven Spielberg, and this movie is rife with the problem, especially in the musical score, which pounds on every emotional moment. Spielberg seldom is willing to let the audience decide for themselves what to think. He insists on hammering home exactly how the audience should feel about each scene. This is beyond annoying and nearly unbearable. The brilliance of Tony Kushner’s screenplay is consistently undermined by Spielberg.
Finally, the movie, which was already too long, makes the misstep of not ending where it should have, with the passage of the 13th Amendment through Congress. It skips forward several months in time to show us Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, followed by Lincoln’s assassination, both of which feel unnecessary and outside the concerns of the previous story.