June 8, 2013

New Disc Review: KILLING LINCOLN (Blu-Ray/Ultraviolet)

Starring Billy Campbell, Jesse Johnson; Narrated by Tom Hanks. Directed by Adrian Moat. (2013, 96 min).

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

Since it's based on a book co-authored by Bill O'Reilly, one might be tempted to view Killing Lincoln with a fair amount of skepticism. He's not in the same league as right-wing loonies like Rush Limbaugh or Glen Beck, but as FOX News' defacto ringleader, his blow-hard onscreen antics will have some folks laughing at the very idea he'd consider himself an expert on the Lincoln assassination. But although I've never read his books, after watching this film, I suspect that O’Reilly the author and O’Reilly the TV personality (I hesitate to call him a journalist) are two different people. I don’t know (or care) how accurate the details presented in Killing Lincoln are, but it is a compelling story nonetheless.

Narrated by Tom Hanks, Killing Lincoln uses dramatic re-enactments to chronicle the events before and after the assassination, moving back and forth between Lincoln (Billy Campbell) and his assassin, John Wilkes Booth (Jesse Johnson). Much of it plays like the final act of Oliver Stone’s JFK, only with far less unsubstantiated speculation on the director’s part. Taken at face value, this unfolding conspiracy is intriguing, and even though the ultimate outcome is common knowledge, the film manages to build a fair amount of suspense. Tom Hank's onscreen narrative adds weight and authority to the proceedings, so while we're watching, we seldom wonder whether or not the details presented are accurate.

John Wilkes Booth?
The re-enactment scenes are very well done, and with one notable exception, so are the performances. The only issue I have is the film's tendency to paint its two primary characters in one dimensional strokes. Although Killing Lincoln does an admirable job presenting the politics and motives behind this conspiracy, Lincoln is depicted as nothing less than saintly, virtually every word from his mouth sounding like something etched on a memorial statue. Booth is the polar opposite, coming across like a demented James Bond villain basking in how deliciously evil he is. Johnson's performance is sometimes so over-the-top that we almost expect him to cackle and wring his hands like Snidely Whiplash.

That aside, Killing Lincoln is a consistently interesting depiction of the events surrounding the assassination. Bill O'Reilly detractors should not be dissuaded from checking it out. Regardless of what you think of the man, in print or on television, this is fascinating stuff.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary with executive producer/screenwriter Erik Jendresen; Interview with Bill O'Reilly; Uncovering the Truth: The Making of Killing Lincoln; Promotional Features: Becoming Booth, Becoming Lincoln, Playing Mary Todd, Directing a New Lincoln Story.

(Out of 5)

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