‘The Better Angels’ chronicles three formative years in the childhood of future US President Abraham Lincoln.
Set in the harsh wilderness of Indiana around 1817, the movie explores his family, the hardships that shaped him, and the two women who guided him. Shot in black and white, it bears the stamp of producer Terrence Malick, whose ‘Tree of Life’ won the Palme d’Or in Cannes in 2011.
German actress Diane Kruger plays Lincoln’s stepmother. “It’s funny – when I got the script I was like, really? The most American part of all Americans they want me, the German, to play? But A.J. said he cast me because in those days everybody was European and he found it difficult to find an American – a contemporary American – who would look that European, who had that sort of face,” says Kruger.
Co-starring Jason Clark and Brit Marling, ‘The Better Angels’ features minimal dialogue, relying instead on the lighting and the characters’ behaviour.
Kruger says she learned a lot from the film, including the strong influence Sarah Lincoln had on young Abraham: “She was crucial to why he became president. She convinced his father to let him go to school. She’s the one that gave him his first books. She couldn’t read herself. And he walked every day – I think it was seven miles – to go to school and to his death he never saw his father again, once he left the farm, but he always spoke about his stepmother. It’s very sweet.”
Premiering at the Sundance Festival earlier this year, the film has received mixed reviews. While some appreciate Terrence Malick’s influence, describing it as "beautiful and arty", others slammed it as outright "boring", adding that "pretty pictures are not enough".
‘The Better Angels’ by A.J. Edwards is out is out now in the US.