Review by Michael Jacobson
Narration: Tom Hanks
Director: Adrian Moat
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 96 Minutes
Release Date: June 11, 2013
"Useless...useless..." - last words of John Wilkes Booth
I’m not our website’s resident historian…that would be Mark…but Killing Lincoln was something I read and loved. It was one of the most fascinating, detailed, and human chronologies of the assassination of our 16th president, what led up to it, and what happened afterwards.
This film, based on that book by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, is actually a pretty faithful rendition. It features on-screen narration by Tom Hanks and some recreations of events as described in the book.
But what plays out in a historical tome doesn’t necessarily translate to the screen. The acting is weak, and the production values somewhat minimal. I never saw Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, so I am not making unfavorable remarks based on any comparisons. The information is good, but I kept wishing I was reading the book instead of watching the film.
The story pays more attention to assassin John Wilkes Booth…his background, his politics, and his obsession with the South and growing hatred of Lincoln. We learn about his failed plans to kidnap the president, and how his plan to cripple the government with the aid of some fellow conspirators came to be, and how his part, the killing of Lincoln, was really the only part that was carried out.
The story goes into intimate details about Lincoln’s last hours, as well as the final days of Booth, who was now lame and on the run. The most fascinating part of the movie is the actual photographs of the conspirators at the end, including their executions.
But overall, though this film offers many details about the assassination you may have not known, it’s like watching a book rather than reading one. I appreciated how well this movie mirrored the book, but, perhaps given the available resources, the attempts to visualize the information seem a little uninspired. The assassination of Lincoln in D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation had more urgency and realism.
I didn’t dislike the movie so much as I felt myself far less engaged by it than I was by the book. Making it into a film was not unreasonable, but consider how weak these performances are, and consider how Ken Burns’ The Civil War was riveting and effecting using only old photographs, and you might see there was a better approach available.
The presentation is clean and clear, with the few actual photographs from the era looking more striking and crisp than you might imagine.
This presentation actually earns high marks…there wasn’t much call for 5.1 in the subject matter, but this Blu-ray makes the most of it, offering musical cues and plenty of subwoofer action to try and drum up the drama. Very good work, and better than required.
There is a commentary track from the screenwriter, an interview with Bill O’Reilly, a making-of featurette and 5 promotional featurettes.
Killing Lincoln was a remarkable and accessible approach to history that just fell a little short when it came to the movie version. In other words, yes, the book was better.