Kushner's screenplay, as deeply humane as it is dryly political, is replete with Shakespeare quotes, which are uttered by Lincoln in a manner more Stanislavskian than Elizabethan. As externally driven as he is, Lincoln's interiority feel vast, almost bottomless. One would have to go to the tragedies to find a character who can match it.
The intention behind "Lincoln" seems more interventionist. It wants to instruct mainstream moviegoers while flattering their sophistication. Spielberg has a genius for driving home points in a way that is simultaneously obvious and bold. An example is the bedroom scene between Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), the radical abolitionist in the House of Representatives, and his black housekeeper, Lydia Smith (S. Epatha Merkerson), in which the two intimately exult in the 13th Amendment's passage.
The contrasting sensibilities at work in "Lincoln" — part Shakespeare, part Oprah Winfrey — may not cohere into a seamless work of art, but the film's heavy-handed touches have a noble design: Predictable emotional buttons are pushed to challenge our civic engagement and to restore faith in the often unseemly democratic process.