Cinema Review: The Better Angels | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Saturday, August 15th, 2020  

The Better Angels

Studio: Amplify
Directed by A.J. Edwards

Nov 07, 2014 Web Exclusive
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In a remote cabin in the deep Midwestern wilderness, a boy — quiet, withdrawn, and intelligent — scrapes out an impoverished existence alongside his sister, mother, and domineering father. Their meager home is struck by a milk-borne illness, taking his mother’s life and robbing the boy of what little remaining joy his world affords him. The father departs from their farm, leaving the children alone, and returning later remarried to a widow and moving her young brood into their small home. The boy takes to his new mother, who loves him as if he were one of her own and encourages his education. It’s the early 19th Century, and the boy is young Abraham Lincoln.

Rigorously researched through numerous biographies and partially adapted from an interview with Lincoln’s cousin conducted around the time of his assassination, The Better Angels is a poetic interpretation of three formative years in the great President’s youth. Tracing Abe’s childhood from just before his biological mother’s death through his earliest interaction with his stepmother, it sheds light on a period rarely portrayed in retellings of Lincoln's life. The Better Angels speculates convincingly on the impact these two women had in shaping the future leader’s personality and philosophies.

The film undeniably bears a resemblance to the work of its producer, Terrence Malick, who writer-director A.J. Edwards has worked with in different capacities since 2005’s The New World. The younger filmmaker’s talents more than stand on their own, however: shot in gorgeous, breathtaking black and white and edited in a documentary-like style, The Better Angels has a timeless sensibility to it. This bold aesthetic approach is properly grounded by naturalistic performances. The name actors – Jason Clarke, Brit Marling, and Diane Kruger – are surrounded by superb non-actors, none more impressive than Braydon Denney, who plays young Abe. While the deliberately steady pacing and minimalist approach to dialogue might put off some, patient viewers will be richly rewarded.

www.betterangelsfilm.com

Author rating: 7/10

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