Title: Saving Lincoln
Director: Salvador Litvak (‘When Do We Eat?’)
Reflecting on the past to positively influence the future is a strong sentiment seen in the new independent biography drama ‘Saving Lincoln.’ President Abraham Lincoln’s bodyguard divulged the true motivations behind the leader’s choices in the new film, to warn against making the same mistakes again. The low-budget movie’s writer-director, Salvador Litvak, also ambitiously used the new technology CineCollage, which aimed to give an authentic feeling to the story by using actual Civil War photos from the Library of Congress as the backdrops in every scene. While the movie was a genuine learning experience for the filmmaker and for viewers to ponder history, the at-times sub-par visuals and dialogue failed to completely capture Lincoln’s legacy.
‘Saving Lincoln’ follows the title Illinois lawyer (Tom Amandes) as he’s elected president, and decides to bring only one friend with him to Washington, D.C.: his bango-playing, joke-telling former law partner and confidant, Ward Hill Lamon (Lea Coco). Lamon is also skilled at using guns, and when the first assassination attempt on the 16th president occurs in 1961, Lamon appoints himself as the President’s bodyguard. He serves the president throughout the four years of the Civil War, witnessing every aspect of Lincoln’s trials as the Commander-in-Chief.
From the constant military and political pressure, to the personal losses of friends and family members, Lamon helps put Lincoln’s soul at ease. The bodyguard also saves the president from several repeated attempts on his life, and introduced him at the Gettysburg address. However, Lamon wasn’t present at Ford’s Theater in 1865 because the president sent him on a mission, but Lamon redefines the tragic event in a surprising manner. The biography also features Lincoln’s interactions with his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln (Penelope Ann Miller) and Senator Charles Sumner (Creed Bratton).
As an independent filmmaker, Litvak daringly and ambitiously utilized CineCollage to incorporate a realistic Civil War-era look into ‘Saving Lincoln.’ The shooting method at times provided authentic settings for several scenes, from Lamon and Lincoln traveling on a train together while touring the United States, to the intimate private bedrooms in the White House, as the president consoled his wife after the loss of their child to illness. The backdrops highlighted the unique, diverse characteristics of the settings Lincoln frequented, from the exquisite, lavish furniture in the White House to the somewhat shoddy bar where the president and Lamon become reacquainted and begin their personal relationship. The pictures showcased an accurate rendering of how America truly looked during the Civil War, from the tattered uniforms the soldiers wore on the battlefields to the simplistic train cars Lincoln rode in, instead of the glamorization filmmakers often infuse into historical movies to make them appear more visually stunning.
Unfortunately, since CineCollage is still a new method of visual effects, the backgrounds at times appeared one-dimensional, and were clearly evident they were photos that were digitally incorporated into the scenes. While some of the digitally-altered backgrounds were subtly noticeable, such as the views from the train Lincoln and Lamon traveled in, other backgrounds took away the realistic, aesthetic nature of the scenes. In one scene, Lincoln is standing on the roof of the White House, triumphantly watching the Confederate flag being pulled down across the river through binoculars. It’s fairly obvious that Amandes was digitally placed on the roof, which takes away from the president’s sense of triumphant pride during the sequence.
To help bridge the connection between the actors and physical props on the set with the Cinecollage backdrops, cinematographer Alexandre Naufel commendably shot at angles to make it appear as though the cast was at the true locations. From intimate close-ups between Amandes and his co-stars while discussing pressing personal and national emergencies, to the sweeping wide shots of the president addressing the nation, Naufel smartly focused more so on the actors’ portrayals and interactions with each other than on their surrounding locations.
Amandes and Coco made a diligent effort to portray both the emotional and more light-hearted natures of Lincoln and his confidant, despite not having full sets to help them embrace their characters’ motivations and feelings. Despite the at-times trite representations of the president and his bodyguard, including them unexpectedly and seemingly uncharacteristically breaking into song at the bar and on the train, the two actors made a genuine effort to truly understand their characters’ emotions. Amandes showcased Lincoln’s determination to preserve the Union, and was supported by Coco’s genuine performance as Lamon, who relentlessly worked to protect the president.
‘Saving Lincoln’ aimed to create a visually unique insight into the 16th president of the United States by using the new visual technique CineCollage, in which Litvak used actual Civil War photos from the Library of Congress for the green screen backdrops. While the method showcased an accurate depiction of how Lincoln’s surroundings truly looked during the Civil War, the backdrops at times appeared more one-dimensional than realistic settings. But with Amandes and Coco’s determination to showcase Lincoln and Lamon’s distinct personalities, and Naufel’s admirable efforts to utilize differing cinematic shots, the independent biography made a commendable effort to showcase the president’s years in office.
Written by: Karen Benardello