WCBE

The Better Angels

Nov 19, 2014

"Impressive" in more than one way.

 

  

The Better Angels

Grade: B+

Director: A. J. Edwards

Screenplay: Edwards

Cast: Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Brit Marling (Another Earth)

Rating: PG

Runtime: 95 min.

by John DeSando

“The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” Abe Lincoln

If writer-director A. J. Edwards wanted to show in his biopic, The Better Angels, the influence of angelic women on young Abe Lincoln, he succeeded. This minimalist, dialogue-spare depiction of Lincoln’s early life in the woods of Indiana is rife with beautiful shots of trees and sunlight, not to mention a pristine cabin, but mostly it is filled with the love and direction given by Nancy (Brit Marling) and Sarah Lincoln (Diane Kruger).

Not much to do out there in the frontier but cut wood and think about  ways to be a better human being. While the women chat with Abe about life, Tom Lincoln (Jason Clarke), his dad, contributes a considerable amount to Abe’s tough mindedness, largely by testing Abe’s patience with dad’s harsh discipline.

While this less-than-epic activity occurs, it is encased in gorgeous photography, black and white crisp, with light streaming through tall trees, frequently at low angle to emphasize the child’s point of view. You could almost say it’s a copy of Terrence Malick’s work, and you’d be right because the ethereal cinematography of that master (Tree of Life, Badlands, for example) no doubt influenced Edwards, whose film is produced by Malick and with whom he has worked.

On the other hand, the poetic images could be off putting for those who accuse Malick of being pretentious or just interested in painting rather than telling a story. I go where a director wants to take me—in this case, to a lyrical feeling about the early life of an immortalized leader.

Although The Better Angels is mostly impressionism, symbolic shots couched in terse language, be it by actors or voiceover, the picture of young Abe up to his rural schooling seems spot on for the intense, brilliant, iconic president we have come to know. I’m impressed.

"All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother" Abe Lincoln

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com