Killing Lincoln (Adrian Moat, 2013): USA

Reviewed by Kathleen Amboy.  Viewed on NatGeo.

  Less than 150 years ago our nation’s greatest president was struck down four months into his second term of office, by a rancorous villain of high celebrity stature.

John Wilkes Booth (Jesse Johnson) was a well-known actor from a highly esteemed, theatrical family and performed at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. shortly after its opening in 1863.

Wilkes was by all accounts, a sympathizer of the Confederate States, hated President Lincoln, and was inclined to make treasonous remarks against the government.

With his hatred of abolitionism, Wilkes Booth initiated a ring of conspirators who originally intended to kidnap Lincoln, but eventually sought to “decapitate the government of the United States,” by assassinating him and Vice President Andrew Johnson as well as Secretary of State William H. Seward.

April of 1865 saw the closure to the Civil War, while President Lincoln (Billy Campbell) began his second term of office, with full intent of reconstruction and amnesty for the South.

Lincoln, who is haunted by a recurring dream of his own death, where he views his own assassinated corpse in the East Room of the White House, invites Ulysses S. Grant to accompany him to the theater, but Grant declines.

Later that evening on April 14th, during Act III of Our American Cousin (a comedy), Booth is not performing on stage, but secretly enters into Ford’s theater.

Around 10:15 p.m. co-conspirator Lewis Powell knocks on the door of the home of Secretary of State, William Seward.  Under the guise of delivering medicine to the bedridden Seward, who has been seriously injured in a carriage accident.  Powell works his way up to Seward’s room by attacking several people who attempt to thwart his agenda, and stabs at Seward several times, before fleeing the site covered in blood.

Meanwhile sneaking into Lincoln’s private box, Booth fires his Derringer at the back of President Lincoln’s head, whereby leaving him completely incapacitated and in a coma.

Concurrently, co-conspirator George Atzerodt chooses to get well intoxicated, rather than attempt to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson.

Within seconds of firing his gun, Booth drops the Derringer and violently wields a knife into the arm of Lincoln’s theater guest, Major Rathbone, before quickly jumping over the balcony and onto the stage shouting “Sic semper tyrannis!”

Killing Lincoln is a riveting docu-drama based on the non-fiction, NY Times bestseller of the same title.  Produced by Scott Free Productions, brothers Ridley and Tony Scott (just prior to his death), and narrated by Tom Hanks.

The film creatively transitions from live action color, to black and white archival photos of the past – as Lincoln gives his second inaugural address, the camera lens appears to spin subjectively with an iris in/iris out, opening up to a black and white photograph, eerily revealing to the audience that Booth had actually been in attendance at the inauguration.

Billy Campbell’s performance is compelling as the compassionate Lincoln, and my preferred choice of the notable president – you’ll remember him from The Rocketeer (1991).

The real scene-stealer though is new-comer Jesse Johnson, who portrays the infamous Booth with a delicious flair, and dramatic Shakespearean emotion, that’s never over-the-top, but apropos to Booth’s enormous ego – Jesse Johnson is son to actor Don Johnson.






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