We have seen Abraham Lincoln’s youth in Young Mr. Lincoln and we have seen his Presidency in Lincoln. Now, we finally get to see his boyhood in The Better Angels, a film which I think could really have used the name “Lincoln” in the title.
The Better Angels purports to tell the story of Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood as he grows up in his little log cabin and is shaped by the forces that surround him. The film was written and directed by A.J. Edwards, but it bears the stamp of its producer (and Edwards’ longtime collaborator) Terrence Malick. The trailer is chock full of Malick-ian images, from the soaring, haunting music, to the old-timey voiceover, to the flashes of sunlight across a dappled landscape. If we were unaware that this is the past, the film was also shot in black and white, which is either inspired and artistic or hopelessly pretentious; maybe both.
I am being facetious, but in all honesty the trailer makes The Better Angels look far too derivative, an attempt to make an art film rather than an art film in itself. Then again, I felt the same about The Tree of Life and that turned out far better and more interesting than I expected it to be. Malick’s involvement of course raises the bar for this film, but it is on Edwards and his lesser-known cast to pull it off. Young Lincoln is played newcomer Braydon Denney, supported by actors such as Wes Bentley, Brit Marling, and Diane Kruger. While none of the cast are exactly slouches in the acting trade, there are no big names here either.
But let us not judge a film before it’s seen. The Better Angels will open November 7, when we can all make a more informed decision on whether or not Edwards was successful in his project. Until then, you can watch the new trailer below.