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Review: 'Saving Lincoln' A Shoddily Assembled Biopic With Special Effects That Distract Instead Of Enhance

Reviews
by Gabe Toro
February 14, 2013 8:03 PM
10 Comments
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Saving Lincoln

Sports fans are familiar with that common, irrational howl: the too-invested fan who screams towards the field or at the screen, veins bulging in their forehead prompted by too much lubrication. How could you call that play? Why are you substituting the righthander from the bullpen? Do you not understand anything about clock management? While there remain hecklers in the movie theaters, they show comparative restraint, and we should count our blessings they can control themselves in front of the silver screen. How on Earth could you put the camera there, Tom Hooper? Ben Affleck, what are you thinking? Why am I watching Bradley Cooper out there when clearly Mark Wahlberg should be filling that roster spot?

But for the five of you planning on buying tickets to “Saving Lincoln” this weekend, perhaps you’ll be forgiven in your vocal distaste of the “techniques” of director Salvador Litvak. Not to be confused with a certain Oscar-nominated film still playing in theaters, nor a recent television event featuring none other than the original “Rocketeer,” this no-budget entry in the story of President Lincoln and his makeshift Secret Service is a real oddity. “Saving Lincoln” has to be the result of favors called in, some sort of curious deal to fill theater screens with the most amateurish, you’ve-gotta-be-kidding-me visuals one has ever seen.

Saving Lincoln

Producers of “Saving Lincoln” have advertised the film as being the result of “cutting-edge 3D technology” that essentially amounts to the completely green-screened background of each scene comprised of still or barely animated photographs. With no color-correcting, and absolutely no effort given to proper shading, the actors stand out like a last-minute freshman art school project. Members of the cast lurch towards inanimate, non-existent props in a manner not unlike how your parents first approached an interactive game on the Wii -- does this cavalryman know that the musket he aims to grab is actually a teapot? To that sports fan, it would be like the coach calling in the pitcher with a 27.00 ERA for a Game 7, lining the quarterback up on the defensive line, or letting the guy at the end of the bench guard Kobe Bryant on the final play. Maybe all those combined.

The underwhelming effects obscure a fascinating chapter in history: Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is less a biopic than it is a story about the government’s approach to the end of slavery, while “Killing Lincoln” appears to focus specifically on the actions and politics of John Wilkes Booth in relation to the sixteenth president. “Saving Lincoln” actually takes a look at the executive branch at a time when the thought of assassinating the President was merely a crackpot threat to all but Lincoln’s inner circle. The idea of one of one of American history’s most beloved leaders scoffing at threats towards his life as his closest acquaintances prepare for tragedy has, at worst, a blackly humorous tinge, and at best, a sadly ironic fear towards an outcome that is inevitable.

Saving Lincoln

Alas, “Saving Lincoln” is not cast with a troupe of actors who can’t elevate the nuance-free material (every other line is a foreshadow), but with a number of hams who can’t even sell the laughter following one of Lincoln’s inside jokes. As Honest Abe, Tom Amandes is a couple of notches below Robert Barron, the actor who wore the stovepipe hat in “Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” His forced smile suggests Sam Waterson frozen in carbonite, and his clogged delivery contrasts with the Lincoln of this film, who enters a room and commands immediate respect (like the other Lincoln adaptations, the President’s aura is never meant to be less than awe-inspiring). As his best friend, confidante and personal bodyguard, Lea Coco has the presence of “Ally McBeal”-era Gil Bellows, which is to say he would be passable in a television spinoff of this very rich historical idea. Other actors with somewhat bigger names fill out the supporting cast, all deployed to questionable effect: at numerous times, Bruce Davison’s William H. Seward is at a loss as to what his line-of-sight needs to be, while Creed Bratton (yes, THE Creed Bratton) is allowed to bulge his eyes out as if he were also some sort of special effect artificially interacting with the cast onscreen. And as wife Mary Todd, Penelope Ann Miller seems to think they're recording the dress rehearsal, and can be seen dropping and re-assuming character within a single shot.

At its best, the shallow field effect creates the intimacy of an audaciously-terrible one-act play, with characters nearly tipping their hat whenever they drop a line about Lincoln’s assassination and future legacy. At its worst, the film is a panoply of ersatz camera placement and terrible scene blocking, actors having no clue how to interact with their surroundings as they rifle through dialogue that stands as a series of historical checkpoints rather than a cohesive story. Perhaps the most tasteful decision is to avoid showing the actual assassination, fading to a protracted, blank white screen. Gazing upon that sight, we witness the first half-competent shot in the entire film. [F]

At its best, the shallow field effect creates the intimacy of an audaciously-terrible one-act play, with characters nearly tipping their hat whenever they drop a line about Lincoln’s assassination and future legacy. At it’s worst, the film is a panoply of ersatz camera placement and terrible scene blocking, actors having no clue how to interact with their surroundings as they rifle through dialogue that stands as a series of historical checkpoints rather than a cohesive story. Perhaps the most tasteful decision is to avoid showing the actual assassination, fading to a protracted, blank white screen. Gazing upon that sight, we witness the first half-competent shot in the entire film. [F]Sports fans are familiar with that common, irrational howl: the too-invested fan who screams towards the field or at the screen, veins bulging in their forehead prompted by too much lubrication. How could you call that play? Why are you substituting the righthander from the bullpen? Do you not understand anything about clock management? While there remain hecklers in the movie theaters, they show comparative restraint, and we should count our blessings they can control themselves in front of the silver screen. How on Earth could you put the camera there, Tom Hooper? Ben Affleck, what are you thinking? Why am I watching Bradley Cooper out there when clearly Mark Wahlberg should be filling that roster spot?
But for the five of you planning on buying tickets to “Saving Lincoln” this weekend, perhaps you’ll be forgiven in your vocal distaste of the “techniques” of Mr. Salvador Litvak. Not to be confused with a certain Oscar-nominated film still playing in theaters, nor a recent television event featuring none other than the original “Rocketeer,” this no-budget entry in the story of President Lincoln and his makeshift Secret Service is a real oddity. “Saving Lincoln” has to be the result of favors called in, some sort of curious deal to fill theater screens with the most amateurish, you’ve-gotta-be-kidding-me visuals one has ever seen.
Producers of “Saving Lincoln” have advertised the film as being the result of “cutting-edge 3D technology” that essentially amounts to the completely green-screened background of each scene comprised of still or barely animated photographs. With no color-correcting, and absolutely no effort given to proper shading, the actors stand-out like a last minute freshman art school project. Members of the cast lurch towards inanimate, non-existent props in a manner not unlike how your parents first approached an interactive game on the Wii -- does this cavalryman know that the musket he aims to grab is actually a teapot? To that sports fan, it would be like the coach calling in the pitcher with a 27.00 ERA for a Game 7, lining the quarterback up on the defensive line, or letting the guy at the end of the bench guard Kobe Bryant on the final play. Maybe all those combined.
The Asylum-level effects obscure a fascinating chapter in history: Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is less a biopic than it is a story about the government’s approach to the end of slavery, while “Killing Lincoln” appears to focus specifically on the actions and politics of John Wilkes Booth in relation to the sixteenth president. “Saving Lincoln” actually takes a look at the executive branch at a time when the thought of assassinating the President was merely a crackpot threat to all but Lincoln’s inner circle. The idea of one of one of American history’s most beloved leaders scoffing at threats towards his life as his closest acquaintances prepare for the worst has, at worst, a blackly humorous tinge, and at best, a sadly ironic fear towards an outcome that is inevitable.
Alas, “Saving Lincoln” is not cast with a troupe of actors who can’t elevate the nuance-free material (every other line is a foreshadow), but with a number of hams who can’t even sell the laughter following one of Lincoln’s inside jokes. As Honest Abe, Tom Amandes is a couple of notches below Robert Barron, the actor who wore the stovepipe hat in “Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” His forced smile suggests Sam Waterson frozen in carbonite, and his clogged delivery contrasts with the Lincoln of this film, who enters a room and commands immediate respect (like the other Lincoln adaptations, the President’s aura is never meant to be less than awe-inspiring). As his best friend and confidante, Lea Coco has the presence of “Ally McBeal”-era Gil Bellows, which is to say he would be passable in a television spinoff of this very rich historical idea. Other actors of somewhat bigger names fill out the supporting cast, all deployed to questionable effect: at numerous times, Bruce Davison’s William H. Seward is at a loss as to what his line-of-sight needs to be, while Creed Bratton (yes, THE Creed Bratton) is allowed to bulge his eyes out as if he were also some sort of special effect artificially interacting with the cast onscreen. And as wife Mary Todd, Penelope Ann Miller seems to think they aren’t recording the dress rehearsal, and can be seen dropping, and re-assuming character, within a single shot.
At its best, the shallow field effect creates the intimacy of an audaciously-terrible one-act play, with characters nearly tipping their hat whenever they drop a line about Lincoln’s assassination and future legacy. At it’s worst, the film is a panoply of ersatz camera placement and terrible scene blocking, actors having no clue how to interact with their surroundings as they rifle through dialogue that stands as a series of historical checkpoints rather than a cohesive story. Perhaps the most tasteful decision is to avoid showing the actual assassination, fading to a protracted, blank white screen. Gazing upon that sight, we witness the first half-competent shot in the entire film. [F]
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10 Comments

  • Salvador Litvak | March 1, 2013 3:16 AMReply

    Mr. Toro, I made Saving Lincoln within authentic photographs of the American Civil War. By combining elements of theater and cinema, we depict Commander-in-Chief Lincoln leading the nation through the entire war.

    Saving Lincoln is the first feature film to do so since D.W Griffith's Abraham Lincoln (1930), and we did it from the perspective of Lincoln's closest friend in Washington, as well as his bodyguard, U.S. Marshal Ward Hill Lamon.

    We captured the actors’ performances on a green screen stage and composited them into three-dimensional environments created from vintage, glass-plate negatives from the Library of Congress. We matched camera angles with the work of pioneering photographers Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner.

    I purposely mixed black & white environments with color live-action, as well as a theatrical acting style, in order to create a film that is consistent with Ward Hill Lamon’s memory piece about Lincoln, and his own bold tone in his memoir, Recollections of Abraham Lincoln.

    It’s a unique film experience – one which invites the audience to bring their own memories, intelligence and emotions to bear on the cinematic moment. People are returning again and again because they relish this opportunity. We've received positive reviews from senior critics Michael Medved, Jeffrey Lyons, and Kirk Honeycutt, as well as Film Forward, Film Journal International, American History Magazine and noted Lincoln expert Harold Holzer.

    I invite your readers to judge for themselves. We are currently on iTunes and Tugg and will soon appear on Amazon.

  • Sven | February 15, 2013 3:17 AMReply

    The trailer ironically uses a indiewire quote to promote itself...

  • Alan B | February 15, 2013 2:05 AMReply

    Gabe Toro whining about Tom Hooper? Well, that's refreshing. As for Gabe's question ("How on Earth could you put the camera there, Tom Hooper?"), I am sure that Hooper and his crew blocked the sequence, lit the set and then rehearsed with the actors. Afterwards, Hooper and co. would probably tweak the lighting before shooting the scene. Gabe, if you want to know any more of the basics about blocking a scene, let us know, OK? Then again, if you did know and you are trying to be the 'funny', it seems kinda tool-ish to be bitching about a filmmaker months after his film has been released. Some people like Hooper, others hate him, but - if you can't review a completely unrelated film about Lincoln without throwing mud at Hooper - then you clearly have a weird fixation upon him.

  • Alan B | February 15, 2013 7:31 PM

    Don't worry, Gabe, I'll do a recap: you whined about Tom Hooper (again), I got pissy about it, Christopher inadvertently insulted me with his strange punctuation, I got pissy about that, Oliver was too lazy to find a high resolution photo to insult me, I got pissy about that, too, and then you used all caps (which, I admit, you did so amusingly).

  • Gabe Toro | February 15, 2013 1:14 PM

    I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW.

  • Alan B | February 15, 2013 8:24 AM

    Oliver, that would be funny if you linked to a higher resolution picture. Otherwise, it's kinda like being insulted by someone with poor grammar: you're unsure whether to feel anger or compassion towards the guy responsible for a poorly constructed insult. Also, if I am being clear in your contention, you think that The Playlist staff shouldn't be held accountable for anything they've written "in the past"? Does this mean I can't talk about your comment? Because - technically - it was also written "in the past". Should I only criticize anything you've written in the present (i.e. articles you're currently writing, before they have been published)? Or maybe I should only criticize anything you will write, perhaps? I remembered the Bell comment because I was baffled that any adult could confuse a horse being hurt in the real world and a horse being hurt IN A MOVIE. I thought that most people would be able to delineate between the two concepts, but apparently that's a little too much to ask of a film critic. Here's the thing: whenever I click onto a Playlist article, I actually don't want to criticize writing. I want to be impressed by the insights and knowledge of the writer. However, when someone like Gabe Toro tries to shoehorn his personal grudge towards a filmmaker whose crime was - shudder - making films he doesn't like (oh, the horror), then I feel I've got the right to call him on his bullshit, just as you have the right to post lower resolution pictures that are meant to be insults.

  • Oliver Lyttelton | February 15, 2013 7:34 AM

    Alan cunningly demonstrates that he's not weirdly fixated on the Playlist staff by weirdly fixating on something that Chris wrote sometime in the past. I like to imagine his bedroom looks like this: http://hunteremkay.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Castle-Crazy-Wall.jpg

  • Alan B | February 15, 2013 5:09 AM

    Why did you stress your point with multiple exclamation marks? Did you lack faith in the power of the first exclamation mark that you just HAD to include another? As one character says in a Terry Pratchett novel, "Multiple exclamation marks are a sure sign of a diseased mind." Christopher, have fun misusing punctuation marks, not understanding the difference between a horse dying in a film and it being killed in real life and whatever else you do at The Playlist, though ...

  • Christopher Bell | February 15, 2013 3:06 AM

    Well now that you mention weird fixations!!

  • andrew | February 14, 2013 10:34 PMReply

    I have to see this movie.

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