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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Subtle, spiritual messages about how Lincoln's early life was shaped by his loving mother (who died young) and his stern, hardworking father. Suggests that Lincoln's early experiences seeing a chain gang, playing in the fields with his mother, and dealing with his father's fatherly justice influenced him into becoming an honorable, just man.
Positive Role Models
Lincoln's father is a dedicated worker and a stern but loving parent who wants Abraham and his sister to have a strong work ethic, a stepmother after their mother dies, and a bright future.
Violence & Scariness
Thomas Lincoln punishes Abraham in a way that was customary for the time: by spanking/hitting him with a switch. Abraham's mother, as well as two relatives, die from milk poisoning. Mrs. Lincoln's demise may be upsetting to see: she vomits, writhes, and convulses before dying. The narrator says that Sarah Lincoln (Abraham's sister) also went on to die young -- during childbirth.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Lincoln's father and his new wife lie in bed together, but it's not sexual.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Some era-accurate smoking.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Better Angels is a Terrence Malick-ish drama about a young Abraham Lincoln. Although it's historically accurate about details of young Lincoln's life, the movie is more of a poetic look at how Lincoln's boyhood was forever changed by the death of his beloved mother and the arrival of his stepmother. In addition to a bit of era-accurate smoking, there's some corporal punishment, as Mr. Lincoln punishes his children by spanking them with a switch. And Lincoln witnesses a chain gang, but the movie itself isn't that violent. It is, however, likely a bit too contemplative and lyrical to appeal to younger viewers. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Director AJ Edwards' debut feature is technically memorable, particularly thanks to cinematographer Matthew J. Lloyd. But the film itself -- despite its compelling subject matter of Lincoln's early years -- doesn't rise above much more than a feature-length Terrence Malick tribute. (If you want to be even less charitable, the voice-over heavy, lyrical story is like a film student's assignment to make something in the signature style of his favorite director.) Malick isn't just a mentor of Edwards' but is also a producer (and formerly attached director) of The Better Angels, so it's not surprising that the movie bears such a strong resemblance to Malick's work.
The nearly dialogue-free performances are all nuanced and expressive -- with Clarke, Marling, and Kruger doing a lovely job with their roles. Young Abe actor Braydon Denney is sweet and reflective and brings his eyes to heaven throughout the film. The story covers two of the most important events in Lincoln's young life -- his mother's death and the arrival of his stepmother -- and both are captured with a poignant intimacy. Lincoln (or Malick) aficionados will be attracted to the movie, but anyone else might be a tad bored with the poetic proceedings that, while beautiful, could also be perceived as pretentious and even boring.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.