- The Better Angels Review 3/11/2016 12:00:00 AM by tainadurden
The Better Angels, a 2014 Lincoln drama directed by AJ Edwards followed Abraham Lincoln as a boy (played by Brayden Denney) and his experiences living from the land. We see Lincoln going through the trials of his youth alongside his dad, Tom Lincoln (played by Jason Clarke) and siblings. Considering how tragic Lincoln's youth was, the film did not make me feel much for any of the characters.
By the end of the movie I felt as if I could have been watching any boy from that time period. But speaking of time period, it is one thing I loved about the film. The time and place (Indiana, 1817) felt authentic and I liked that I was able to observe what life was like back then. The crude and realistic production design and the plain costume design were both fitting to the time. The black and white color palette also helped to convey the simplicity of the period.
To characterize the boy as Lincoln, there were lines about him reading books, and scenes of him wrestling, but the core of his childhood was his relationship with his mother and step-mother which I felt were underdeveloped in the film or did not feel as essential as they were in real life. I did enjoy watching the father-son relationship in the film. There was tension between the two in real life, as Tom Lincoln seemed more fond of his step son than his real son. But, as the movie went forward, there was a warm side of Tom Lincoln on display which I enjoyed. Specifically, when he tells Abraham that he'll be twice the man he was, it was heartwarming and revealed a less one sided approach to their relationship.
The cinematography was not bad by any means but I do wish that the cinematographer would have calmed down a bit. Almost every scene had continuous camera movement that didn't always seem motivated by anything and it drew attention to itself. This over complication of movement seemed to be an overcompensation for the slow pace and lack of substance throughout the film.
Overall, The Better Angels had some beautiful shots and started to peel away at Lincoln's childhood. However, it was overly pretentious and unfocused, which led to it feeling more like a seedling of a movie than the fully developed, blossomed film it could have been.
- I sank deep into this film and stepped back in time. 3/14/2015 12:00:00 AM by captaincastile
This is one of the most extraordinary films I have ever seen. I've been pondering the experience for a couple of days. I really don't know how to express what I thought and felt while watching it. I fear that whatever I say will sound plastic, and it was not plastic at all. It was real. It fell just short of being living flesh.
To start, I felt like I was really there with young Lincoln and his family. It was like visiting with them. The feeling became deeper as the film progressed.
Black and white was the perfect choice for this film. The cinematography was in a class by itself. Orson Wells did not do any better when he filmed Citizen Kane.
Many of the camera angles were new to me; and yet they were as comfortable as old shoes. The sound was just as extraordinary. The wind in the trees, the birds chirping in the fields all combined with the skilled use of the camera and drew me in.
I've seen, as far as I know, every film ever made about Lincoln. He has been one of my heroes since I was a child. But, I've never seen one that covered his early childhood in such depth. Not necessarily depth of historical detail, but depth of experience; what he lived, thought and felt as a boy.
I was surprised and pleased to see something of his early school years. And yes, they prayed in school and the teacher taught from the Bible. The one room schoolhouse was, to the best of my knowledge, accurately portrayed.
If you question the reality of Christian teaching in early American schools, I suggest you Google up a copy of the first editions of McGuffey's Readers. You'll find them to be full of Christianity. That's the first editions; 1836 - 37. Not the later editions when the "gutting" of Christian teaching and principals was already having it's effect. More's the pity.
The two women in young Lincoln's life were of course his two mothers.
To watch Lincoln's mother touch and stroke his face and tousled hair was perhaps the most heart touching portrayal of a mother's love I have ever seen in film. Words were not needed; the love in her eyes and the touch of her hand said it all. No wonder Lincoln gave her so much praise.
Following his mother's death, his step-mother eventually became just as close to him. She too, was an extraordinary woman.
I disagree with the short shrift many film critics have given to Lincoln's father. He played as large a part in shaping Lincoln's character as did his two mothers. Lincoln Sr. is well represented here; and deservedly so.
When I was a boy there was a time I would have given anything to hear my father say to me what Abe's father says to him toward the end of the film. Of course I won't give it away, but I'll tell you it's worth waiting for.
I don't know if anyone connected with the film will ever read this, but if they do, I want to express my thanks and let you know I'm grateful for for work and care you put into "The Better Angels." I can honestly say that I think I'm a bit better for having seen it.
If you have not yet see this work of love, please do. I think you'll consider it to be time very well spent.
- Simultaneously Ahistorical and American, Universal and Particular. 7/25/2015 12:00:00 AM by danielmizzlemoss
What is so immediately intoxicating about this film is the cinematography. From the first frame you are pulled into the experience as viscerally as moving image can manage. Albeit this is not, per se, immediate. The film actually begins with an extended introduction to the score or, more specifically, the leitmotif that will accompany you throughout much of the trajectory. This brings me to the main idea: this piece is ahistorical in many ways. Rather than a score befitting the time period, you make your acquaintance with a modern sounding slightly more minimal arc of sounds which speak more to the mood of the film than to anything aimed at a period drama. A fortiori, the decision to begin the film with this extended immersion into music—a medium beautifully unconstrained by the more limited potential of physical form is a titillating foreshadowing of what the director is after here. This movie intends to touch only on themes that span the course of human history (and perhaps transcend it entirely given the religious connotations often present (similar to The Tree of Life in that regard)) through the presentation of mood, love, loss, family, discipline, isolation, friendship, freedom etc. What makes this so successful is not the scope alone. Any film can be ambitious and fall flat but this endeavor found it's successful portrayal of the universal through specific attention to the particular (much as poetry does (and much as The Tree of Life did)). There is great attention to detail in this film and all of the powerful themes conveyed here are tightly woven into the fabric of a very historically particular life and time. This is what is so magical about The Better Angels. It is ambitiously universal in everything it intends to convey and it does so through a radical focus on the absolutely particular. This is a film about Abraham Lincoln's childhood and that is what you see... But!– You never even hear his name. To an outsider, uninitiated into American Culture and History, it would be the same experience. The detail is so zoomed in that only the most fundamental elements of the life and character portrayed here can be seen. The details that one speaks of in a history class are nowhere to be found. This film pulls you to two opposite ends of an essential spectrum of human knowledge. On one end: abstraction to the universal and on the other: absolute particularity. It is the way that the former permeates the latter that makes this film an exceptional work of cinema. Roger Ebert correctly daubed it: "a genuine American art film", and it is indeed that and yet more. This more, on it's own, however is insufficient. Being a genuine American film alone is insufficient. Combining the two such that the universal emerges from the details and routines of an American woodland childhood is what strikes gold. The message and medium chosen were paired together exquisitely and make for an immersive experience of cinematic poetry and thematic meditation. The Better Angels is indeed utterly American, and yet wholly universal all at once. I hope this enhances your experiences of it.
p.s. I wrote this in an inspired frenzy so please excuse any potential iPhone typos and read my roving ramblings charitably. Cheers!
p.p.s. It's quite beautiful that this is a film which defies typical cinematic structure so thoroughly that I am at a loss for how one could even potentially construct a description capable of containing spoilers. I don't think it can be done.
- History in the making? 8/2/2014 12:00:00 AM by kosmasp
Not really, especially if you watched this without having a clue who the young boy is supposed to be. It could be just any story about any young boy growing up. But it's not. It's young Abe Lincoln, something you could completely miss, like I did. Which happens because I do watch movies without reading up on them. So while it was obvious this was going to be a black and white film, I didn't know what it was about. It played at the Festival in Berlin, which does not always says a lot about the quality of the movie itself, but I tried.
And I wasn't disappointed by the story of this boy. A story that is interesting in itself, but would not allow any conclusions about where this boy would go. Something people obviously did ask the director too, who was present at the screening. A very interesting stylised form, of a story of a man/boy you might not have heard/read yet ...
- Impressionist Film about Young Abe Lincoln 4/6/2015 12:00:00 AM by shaquedamour
This beautiful film really took me to that time and place. I enjoyed this movie more than any other I have seen lately. This thought provoking portrayal of Lincoln's boyhood is fresh. I have already read so much about Lincoln and seen films about him and thought this might be tired ground to cover. But, I was completely drawn in by the experience of this film. The subtlety of the piece is much appreciated. I work with children and I would like to show this film to elementary - high school students and get their impressions of the film. The way that childhood is captured here is lovely and meaningful. This story within a story is a gentle and welcome addition to films about a great American President.