Review: The Better Angels
It’s no surprise that after working with Terrence Malick, director A.J. Edwards debut feature The Better Angels mimics the auteur’s filmmaking style to a tee. That is what The Better Angels feels like, a Terrence Malick film but without the same power or symbolic meanings. Filmed in black and white, the film is aesthetically beautiful, graceful and features a gorgeous score. However, as the story of a young Abraham Lincoln and his childhood in Indiana, the film is far too slow and attempting to be poetic to ever really grasp the viewers attention.
The film features notable actors such as Jason Clarke, Diane Kruger, Wes Bentley, and Brit Marling. They all give fine performances, as does the star, newcomer Braydon Denney. This film isn’t so much about character, however, as any capable actor could fill these roles. The film is an atmospheric, dream-like experience, except nothing about it is very engaging. Fans of Terrence Malick, who produced this film and whose attachment to the project will likely get it some attention, may enjoy this similar, copycat version of his style. However, unlike some of Malick’s films, The Better Angels is never captivating, but simply is just there. The story of Abraham Lincoln never feels specific to this incredible historical figure, and while that anonymity factor is intriguing, it still diverts from the storytelling. This is a portrait of a young boy who will grow up to become one of the most famous men in American history, but it doesn’t feel like a necessary or interesting story to tell.
The Better Angels rides on its technical achievements, but in the end is simply boring and doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen done better before. It’s a fine attempt, but a lacklustre result, and is bound to polarize audiences just as many Terrence Malick films have before-except here, it’s much more obvious that there’s not much going on.