Writer-director A.J. Edwards imagines two years in the early life of Abraham Lincoln in “The Better Angels,” an mpressionistic drama produced and clearly inspired by Terrence Malick.
Filmed in rustic-meets-mythic black and white, the plot-thin story begins in 1817, when 8-year-old Abe (Braydon Denney) is growing up in rural Indiana. Preferring reading books to chopping wood, Abe displeases his stern, hardworking farmer (Jason Clarke). Abe’s serene, supportive mother (Brit Marling), however, recognizes the boy’s “gift.” After her death, Abe’s new stepmother (Diane Kruger) and a schoolteacher (Wes Bentley) carry on in her place, encouraging Abe to go far.
Edwards has worked on several of Malick’s films (his credits include co-editing “To the Wonder”), and Malick’s influence is obvious in everything from the sun-kissed flora to the twirling women to the voiceover used in lieu of dialogue in this feature debut.
While the imagery is exquisite, the film doesn’t have the vitality or emotional impact that characterizes Malick’s “Days of Heaven” and “Tree of Life” and it doesn’t provide provide a substantial or stirring picture of a young mind developing. A well-researched film with an intriguing premise, “Better Angels” is gorgeous, but not enlightening or affecting.
The Better Angels
two and a half stars
Starring: Braydon Denney, Jason Clarke, Diane Kruger, Brit Marling
Written and directed by: A.J. Edwards
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes