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    Killing Lincoln Blu-ray Review

    Blu-ray Fox TV Reviews

    Jun 11 2013 01:34 PM | Matt Hough in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
    For those who thought Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln was the definitive docudrama on the last months of the life of the 16th President, Adrian Moat’s Killing Lincoln makes for a superb supplemental accompanying feature. Covering mostly the final days of both Lincoln and his killer John Wilkes Booth, this engrossing docudrama will fill in many informational cracks and provide some real surprises in the knowledge of most viewers about the events leading up to and occurring after the first assassination of a U. S. President.

    Title Info:

    • Studio: Fox
    • Distributed By: N/A
    • Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
    • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
    • Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
    • Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
    • Rating: Not Rated
    • Run Time: 1 Hr. 36 Min.
    • Package Includes: Blu-ray, UltraViolet
    • Case Type: keep case
    • Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
    • Region: A
    • Release Date: 06/11/2013
    • MSRP: $29.99

    The Production Rating: 4.5/5

    Narrated by Tom Hanks who fills in historical detail for sequences that have not been dramatized from the validated eye-witness testimony of those involved in this mesmerizing story of treachery and tragedy, Killing Lincoln works its way methodically through the parallel stories of Abraham Lincoln (Billy Campbell) as he wrestles with the last days of the war and the acclaimed, strutting John Wilkes Booth (Jesse Johnson) whose original plans to kidnap the President and key members of the administration in order to assure the South’s final grasp at triumph turn instead to murder during an epiphany which occurs near the end of one of his stage performances.

    Based on the best-selling book by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard, Erik Jendresen’s screenplay which offers both dramatic scenes and Hanks’ fill-in narration seems utterly faithful to history and balances both narrative and drama in equal parts so that the film does seem one of a piece and not a fragmented, arid history lesson with a talking head and actors doing feeble reenactments of history. Director Adrian Moat stages scenes wonderfully (on a micro-budget of $3.4 million, small for a period TV-film, and shot in fifteen days), and everything seems authentic (some of the locations are the real thing such as Jefferson Davis’ Richmond study; others like Ford’s Theater are recreated quite magnificently with the camera tricking the eye into seeing a theater full of patrons instead of the twenty-eight who were actually there as extras). Information about the events leading up to and after the assassination are interwoven so carefully through the story being told that one is learning and being entertained at the same time: the best kind of documentary. And no matter how well one claims to know the facts, the film has some amazing revelations. And Moat has done something else that’s really inspired: many of the conspirators are not filmed full face through the film so that when we get to see the actual Alexander Gardner photographs taken of the condemned men at the time of their arrest, it’s a simply riveting revelation which once again plays up the program's faithfulness to history.

    Though there are eighty speaking parts in the movie, only three actors have substantial speaking roles. Billy Campbell captures the essence of the goodness and gentility of Abraham Lincoln and makes a fine President if one isn’t expecting Daniel Day-Lewis. The larger of the two main roles, however, is the John Wilkes Booth of Jesse Johnson, and he’s quite wonderful. He looks very much like the real Booth and reproduces his noted swagger and racism most believably. Though he doesn’t play the role with any kind of Southern accent (Booth hailed from Maryland and possibly didn’t have one though most actors playing him usually adopt an accent), he brings out Booth’s growing fanaticism and pride in his “great accomplishment” and leaves the viewer with fewer mixed feelings about his mental stability than other renditions of the man have offered. Geraldine Hughes seems a tad young and pretty to be playing Mary Todd Lincoln (she was 47 at the time of Lincoln’s death), but her one big scene by his side at his death is played with the expected amount of frenzied grief. Tom Hanks, of course, grounds the movie with his genial authority and is most effective as the storyteller.

    Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA

    The transfer is framed at its television widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Sharpness is the most erratic element here with some shots nicely sharp and defined and others seeming soft-focused and inconsistent. Color has been drained a bit from the image perhaps adding a more antique look to the photography, and contrast has been dialed down a bit turning the images sometimes a bit milky and sapping depth from the blacks. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.

    Audio Rating: 4.5/5

    The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix makes the most of its small budget. Care has been taken to offer some split effects during some of the more action-filled scenes (the shooting and its aftermath; the surrounding of Booth in the barn), and David Buckley’s music gets a nice spread through both the fronts and rears. Dialogue and narration have been well recorded and have been placed in the center channel.

    Special Features: 3/5

    Audio Commentary: Screenwriter Erik Jendresen provides a fascinating play-by-play offering up additional biographical and historical information as scenes play out on screen. A must listen.

    Bill O’Reilly Interview (5:04, HD): the author of the original book discusses his reasons for writing it.

    Uncovering the Truth: The Making of Killing Lincoln (22:22, HD): producer Ridley Scott, director Adrian Moat, screenwriter Erik Jendresen, actors Billy Campbell, Jesse Johnson, and Geraldine Hughes along with the program’s costume designer, make-up supervisor, and production designer all discuss their work on the project.

    Lincoln in Virginia (0:17, HD): a promo ad for touring historical Virginia sites.

    Five Production Featurettes: brief interview segments to promote the program.
    • Becoming Booth (2:39, HD): Jesse Johnson describing his process
    • Becoming Lincoln (2:00, HD): Billy Campbell mentioning his small amount of prep time for the role
    • Playing Mary Todd (1:51, HD): Geraldine Hughes describes her thrill at playing an icon
    • Directing a New Lincoln Story (2:16, HD): Adrian Moat and his desire to make the most of his limited budget and time
    • Killing Lincoln Preview (1:39, HD): a National Geographic promo for the special

    Promo Trailers (HD): Hitchcock, Stoker, A Late Quartet, The Last Ride, Atlas Shrugged Part II, The Bible, The Oranges, Homeland.

    Ultraviolet Instructions

    Overall Rating: 4/5

    Killing Lincoln is the best kind of documentary drama: one that engrosses the viewer and informs him simultaneously. Recommended for history buffs and for those who enjoyed Lincoln and want to know more about the story of the President’s final days told from both sides.

    Reviewed by: Matt Hough
    Support HTF when you buy this title:


    I am interested in this film (a professional one as historical feature films were the focus of my graduate work in history and remain a frequent teaching tool in my courses), though I have some reservations about the source material (to be fair, though, I've only skimmed through it and I plan to give it a thorough reading--but I am wary of works by people with such a strong ideological stance as O'Reilly often displays--on any part of the political spectrum, incidentally). Still, both the book and the film deserve a fair hearing and your review only heightens my interest.

    I would be interested in reading the book if I could be assured it was a bone fide history and not a politicaly slanted text. O'Reilly has another, Killing Kennedy, that I'd be interested in also, if....I'm not saying either book is a political statement, because I don't know. I hope asking if politics is absent it not a violation of forum rules. If so, please delete.

    Politics is absent from the film which is one reason I tried in the review to stress its seeming historical accuracy.

    I think there is a possibility, though, that some consumers (or would-be consumers) may feel that supporting one venture (where politics is absent) might in some way signal support for (or bleed-over to) other ventures.

    Another film which focuses on the conspirators (and in particular on Mary Surratt) is The Conspirator, directed by Robert Redford. The Blu-ray is outstanding, with a superb collection of extras.


    The Conspirator Blu-ray Review

    Another film which focuses on the conspirators (and in particular on Mary Surratt) is The Conspirator, directed by Robert Redford. The Blu-ray is outstanding, with a superb collection of extras.


    The Conspirator Blu-ray Review


    And that film is referenced in the excellent audio commentary.

    I have used The Conspirator as an assignment in a US History course--the students were assigned the task of identifying any parallels between the film and current/recent events, assessing the effectiveness of the parallels at creating a coherent critique of those current/recent events and discussing whether the inclusion of such parallels was an appropriate way to present history as a supplement to more traditional material or whether a more straightforward re-enactment would have been preferable (the last point having various possible responses, of course). It proved quite an interesting exercise. If I could ever find the time, I would love to screen Lincoln, Killing Lincoln and The Conspirators (particularly since they are so close in production) and examine their approaches to the material in a class discussion. Sadly, I'm not on the roster for the US Civil War class that would grant me the best venue for such an exercise.


    A good book on the Surratt case is The Assassin's Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln by Kate Clifford Larson