log cabin business was no joke. Abraham
Lincoln’s formative years put the “hard” in hardscrabble. Yet, they shaped him
into the commanding and compassionate leader our nation needed. Young Master
Lincoln comes of age in A.J. Edwards’ impressionistic The Better Angels (trailer here), co-produced by Terrence Malick, which
screens as a New Frontier selection of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
by Lincoln’s cousin reminiscing shortly after his assassination, Angels chronicles three years of his
life as a gangly youth in the back hills of Indiana. His devout but illiterate mother Nancy
Lincoln recognizes her youngest son’s remarkable intellectual gifts, but his
gruff father sees no value in a bookish education. Nancy Lincoln would die at a
tragically young age, but her religious convictions clearly shaped her
sensitive son’s ethical values. A short
while later Tom Lincoln remarries. Sarah
Lincoln also takes a shine to young Abraham, finally convincing her husband to
support his education.
Angels, Malick protégé Edwards
maintains a style consistent with that of his mentor, but scene after scene
resonate with far greater emotion than the austere To the Wonder. This is a simple story, but it is deeply
moving. Aside from the exquisitely beautiful
opening shots of the Lincoln Memorial, Angels
never leaves the Indiana Hill country, circa 1817. Yet, Lincoln’s later
significance is unambiguously stamped upon the film.
Angels is a true work of art. Each and every frame of Matthew J. Lloyd’s
black-and-white cinematography is suitable for framing. As sort of an illustrative
tone poem-tribute to Lincoln, Angels fits
comfortably enough in the New Frontiers rubric.
Nevertheless, the film boasts several very fine performances. Diane
Kruger’s turn as Sarah Lincoln is wonderfully sensitive and finely wrought, but
Jason Clarke’s work as the demanding but ultimately loving Tom Lincoln sneaks
up on viewers, landing a total knockout punch.
is deliberately paced, favoring sensory stimulus over narrative drive. It
is also an unusually powerful and evocative film. There will be plenty of
people who just won’t get it, but they will be wrong. Elegantly crafted, it is
one of the high-end high-points of this year’s Sundance. Enthusiastically
recommended for patrons with adult attention spans, The Better Angels screens again
today (1/22) and Saturday (1/25) in Park City.
Labels: Abraham Lincoln, Diane Kruger, Sundance '14, Terrence Malick