The Day Lincoln Was Shot (TV Movie, 1998)
“The Murder. The Manhunt. The Events That Stunned A Nation.”
My two Lincolns micro-review:
Directed by John Gray.
Based on book of same name by Jim Bishop (full disclosure: I haven’t read it).
As the war-weary, fatalistic yet hopeful Abraham Lincoln we have Lance Henriksen: a criminally under-rated, woefully under-used by top directors in Hollywood actor. “Terminator”, “Pumpkinhead”, “Aliens”, “The Horror Show”, “Tales From The Crypt”, “Hard Target”, “The Quick & The Dead”, “Powder”, “Millennium”, “Hellraiser:Hellworld”, “Bone Dry”, “Bring Me The Head Of Lance Henriksen”.
As the egocentric, southern patriot, actor, playboy, assassin John Wilkes Booth we have Rob Morrow from “Northern Exposure” and “Numb3ers”. He’s always solid.
As the jealous, caring, somewhat haughty Mary Lincoln we have Donna Murphy who was Picard’s romantic interest in “Star Trek The Next Generation Insurrection” and Mrs. Doc Oc in “Spiderman 2”.
As the stalwart, much loved (at least in this movie) eldest son Robert Lincoln we have Wil Wheaton who was Wesley Crusher on “Star Trek The Next Generation” and is The Bad Astronomer Phil Plait’s mancrush.
Forget the title: approximately the last eleven days of Lincoln’s life then jumps ahead twelve days to the last moments of Booth’s life with a quick follow-up of the other co=conspirators and supposed co-conspirators fates.
Even though constrained by tv movie time limits this does well with characterization.
Murphy’s Mary Lincoln has the emotionalism and fragility associated with the real woman.
Morrow’s Booth hints at the professional family rivalry (father and older brother also actors), sorrow at South’s loss, anger, arrogant confidence of an actor.
Henriksen, halfway to Lincoln with his craggy lined face and blue eyes, has a subtle, quiet toughness about him, ready to forgive the South and get back to being a United States again. He’s the Lincoln everyone sees in their head.
An almost everything-that-could-go-wrong-does-go-wrong chain of events: General Grant not going with the Lincolns to the theatre, an incompetent, drunken, fill-in for the President’s Guard that evening leads to Lincoln’s shooting as well as the attempted assassination of Secretary of State Seward and the almost attempted assassination of VP Johnson.
Watching the long night of Lincoln’s death is very dark. I recognized people, dialogue, Lincoln’s pocket contents from reports of the evening.
Downside: some bad camera work (one scene in particular is distractingly shaky). When having an actor who’s 5’10”-5’11” (depending on which website you’re reading) playing an historical figure known for his 6’4” height it might be best to never shoot him below the knees (not even in long shot). A 5”-6” height change between camera shots is disconcerting.
Over all, the film is slightly oversentimental but pays good attention to historical detail and is successful in portraying the losses of war, friend, husband, father, President and the birth of an icon.