To call this atmospheric spin on Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana youth “Malick–inspired” is almost comically inadequate: Debuting director A.J. Edwards has worked with the legendary filmmaker, beginning with 2005’s The New World, as an intern, editor and “key artistic consultant.” Plus, Malick toyed with directing this woodsy profile himself before delegating. Even after the hand-off, though, the material has been given almost clonelike treatment, as Edwards tilts his camera skyward to capture swaying trees, ladles on the lush orchestral music (largely by Anton Bruckner) and has his actors muse their thoughts in voiceover.
The overall effect is close to parody, tinged by a frustrating coyness that refuses to identify its protagonist (Braydon Denney) by name for the entire running time. (We do see some prefatory shots of the Lincoln Memorial, which help.) The main flaw—twirling farm girls and grunting oxen aside—is an utter lack of insight into the future leader’s character. A childhood of honest labor is the simplest takeaway; “I want to be as strong as you,” the boy tells his dad, and you lunge to find depth. It’s all as portentous and inconsequential as those kid-in-cape flashbacks from Man of Steel.
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