“Killing Lincoln”: A Unique Perspective
There have been so many books and films on the horrible days of April in 1965, when a group of individuals conspired to, and successfully manged to assassinate the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Some singularly exceptional books on the subject have managed to be made into television specials, one of them coming to mind is The Day Lincoln Was Shot by Jim Bishop.
National Geographic Channel has now presented the newest in this line of special broadcasts taking a look those events. The show is called, Killing Lincoln and is based on the runaway best seller of the same name by noted television commentator and host of The O’Reilly Factor, Bill O’Reilly and his co-author, Martin Dugard.
Billy Campbell (The Rocketeer, The Killing) gives a very good performance as Lincoln. He nicely presents the backwoods image that Lincoln is so well known for, but also shows us more of the personal side of this beloved man in a performance that brings to my mind the amazing performance of Sam Waterston as the president in the two part mini-series, Gore Vidal’s Lincoln.
However, my highest praise for a person’s acting in the docudrama goes to Jesse Johnson for his portrayal of the actor turned assassin John Wilkes Booth. In his performance, Johnson not only captures the mannerisms, the attitude, and the flare for the dramatic which Booth presented, but he also gives us a rare glimpse into the mentality of Booth. One part of his performance that especially impacted me was the scene when he gets copies of newspapers and discovers that he has not become a hero for killing the President, but instead has become the most reviled man in both the North and South. Not only did his character murder Lincoln, but Johnson commits grand theft show for his performance.
The show is a great overview of the story of the killing of one of this country’s most beloved leaders. Now, viewers need to remember that this is a docudrama, which while not as dry and musty as documentaries can be, are not exactly the greatest entertainment in the world for those who love dramatic flair. It also is limited by it’s time constraints in how much of the story can be told in the allotted time. However, despite some folks opinions, I feel that this show delivers not only an entertaining presentation, but also one that communicates and teaches history, including facts of which the viewer might not be aware. Ridley Scott and the late Tony Scott demonstrate in this film, as they did in their superb documentary, Gettysburg, that they can produce very entertaining films in multiple genres.
Sadly, I’ve not had the chance to read the book the movie is based on due to numerous constraints on me, so I can not do an accurate comparison between the book and the film. That will have to wait for another day. However, if this movie is an accurate presentation of the contents of O’Reilly and Dugard’s work, then it truly gives us a retelling of one of America’s darkest moments in her history in a new and intriguing light.
If you like history, I strongly urge you to catch the encore presentation of this movie on Saturday, February 23rd at 7pm EST on the National Geographic Channel. You will learn some interesting things during the show and be treated to some excellent acting on top of that.