Expert: Movie Based on a Bill O’Reilly Book Is More Accurate Than Spielberg’s "Lincoln"

Killing Lincoln Billy Campbell Mother Jones: Courtesy of National Geographic Channel

In late August, action-film maestro Tony Scott took his own life, jumping from the Vincent Thomas Bridge into the Los Angeles Harbor. One of the director’s final projects was a made-for-TV movie that he co-executive produced with his brother Ridley: An adaptation of the nonfiction thriller Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever, a best-selling book written by writer Martin Dugard and TV host Bill O’Reilly. The film (premiered on National Geographic Channel on Sunday, Feb. 17 at 8 p.m. ET/PT) staring Billy Campbell as President Abraham Lincoln and son of Don Johnson Jesse Johnson as stage-actor/assassin John Wilkes Booth. The movie is narrated by Tom Hanks‘ soothing timbre.

The made-for-cable Killing Lincoln [Digital] continues Nat Geo’s recent habit of debuting an original film right around the time a more high-profile movie with similar content is making the rounds in movie theaters and the awards circuit. (In November, the channel released its Bin Laden assassination movie starring William Fichtner—a project that might have reminded some viewers of this.)

Killing Lincoln never rises above marginally passable entertainment. It is a generally clunky and flavorless exercise weakly mimicking prestige filmmaking. It is also the latest in a months-long deluge of Lincoln movies that includesAbraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter [Blu-ray] [Digital), Steven Spielberg’s massive Oscar-bait Lincoln [Blu-ray][Digital], Saving Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies [Blu-ray], and Army of Frankensteins. Yet Killing Lincoln [Digital] has one distinction among this bunch: It just might be the most historically accurate.

This may seem odd, given that the movie is based on a mediocre book that Bill O’Reilly wrote in his spare time in between creatively reinterpreting reality at Fox News. Furthermore, it’s a book that history buffs have flagged for being pocked with factual errors.

But all that has apparently been cleaned up for the film version written by Erik Jendresen, whose previous writing credits include episodes of HBO’s beloved WWII miniseries Band of Brothers and this book about the Inca Medicine Wheel. And the attention paid to nailing down the facts and history is quite impressive, according to an expert in the studies of American political and social history.

"I thought the film was exceedingly accurate, more so than Spielberg’s," Tyler Anbinder, professor of history at the George Washington University, wrote in an email after viewing the movie for Mother Jones.

"As a history lesson, [Killing Lincoln] was very good; it stuck very closely to the facts of the story, and resisted the temptation to add imagined detail for the sake of exploring the motives of the characters involved," Anbinder said. "In that sense, this movie is better than Spielberg’s Lincoln, which added fictional events to the story (Lincoln’s son’s obsession with slavery, for example) to try to create a motivation for Lincoln to abolish it."

"I tell my students [John Wilkes Booth] was more on par with Billy Baldwin than Alec."

Anbinder is noted for his work on Lincoln, the Civil War, immigration, and 19th-century American politics. He also worked as a historical consultant for Martin Scorsese’s bloody 2002 Gangs of New York [Blu-ray]

Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner’s (dull and vastly overrated) Lincoln has been Oscar-nominated out the wazoo for the upcoming 85th Academy Awards ceremony. It has also been duly hammered for a few inaccuracies, including the way in which it completely screwed the pooch on Connecticut’s vote on abolishing slavery.

Killing Lincoln isn’t without its own flubs. Notes Anbinder:

Lincoln in one scene was a head taller than his wife, but he should have been two heads taller than her. [And] this film made Booth appear far more famous in his day than he really was. His brother Edwin was a star as was his father Junius. John Wilkes was really a B-list actor. I tell my students he was more on par with Billy Baldwin than Alec. You knew who he was, but mostly thought of him in terms of his more famous brother and father.

On a related note, I haven’t yet asked the professor for his assessment of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter [Blu-ray] [Digital). I will update this post when I get a response on that.

Now here’s a trailer for Killing Lincoln:

 

Related:

Children’s Book: Lincoln’s Last Days: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever

Giants

Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot

Being George Washington: The Indispensable Man, As You’ve Never Seen Him

George Washington’s Sacred Fire

A Patriot’s History of the United St…

John Adams – Mini Series

Original Intent

About Ask Marion

I am a babyboomer and empty nester who savors every moment of my past and believes that it is the responsibility of each of us in my generation and Americans in general to make sure that America is as good or even a better place for future generations as it was for us. So far... we haven't done very well!! Favorite Quotes: "The first 50 years are to build and acquire; the second 50 are to leave your legacy"; "Do something that scares you every day!"; "The journey in between what you once were and who you are becoming is where the dance of life really takes place". At age 62 I find myself fighting inoperable uterine Cancer and thanks to the man upstairs and the prayers from so many people including many of my readers from AskMarion and JustOneMorePet... I'm beating it. After losing our business because of the economy and factors related to the re-election of President Obama in 2012 followed by 16-mos of job hunting, my architect-trained husband is working as a trucker and has only been home approximately 5-days a month since I was diagnosed, which has made everything more difficult and often lonely... plus funds are tight. Our family medical deductible is 12K per year for two of us; thank you ObamaCare. But thanks to donations from so many of you, we are making ends meet as I go through treatment while taking care of my father-in-law who is suffering from late stage Alzheimer's and my mother-in-law who suffers from RA and onset dementia as well as hearing loss, for which there are no caretaker funds, as I continue the fight here online to inform and help restore our amazing country. And finally I need to thank a core group of family, friends, and readers... all at a distance, who check in with me regularly. Plus, I must thank my furkids who have not left my side through this fight. You can see them at JustOneMorePet.
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5 Responses to Expert: Movie Based on a Bill O’Reilly Book Is More Accurate Than Spielberg’s "Lincoln"

  1. IT UP says:

    —-This on cue, ‘on board’ cultural incest and predictive programming
    around Lincoln.

    This Lincoln that, in 2013 as ‘things are unfolding’ —–‘overlooks’
    the REAL Lincoln’s quite possibly —FATAL— diss of the Global
    bank syndicate over USURY finance of the war.

    WHAT CAN WE SAY?

  2. idebenone says:

    With Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln in theaters and all this absurd post-election claptrap about secession, now seems an appropriate time for Kino Classics to release D.W. Griffith’s 1930 talkie, Abraham Lincoln, the earliest major biopic of the lanky, bearded emancipator. Griffith had briefly treated the president’s assassination in his influential and divisive 1915 antebellum epic, The Birth of a Nation—a monumental advance in filmmaking marred by its outright racism—and fifteen years later he would return for a more comprehensive look at Honest Abe, using a script co- written by Stephen Vincent Benét, the then-recent recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for his book-length American narrative poem, John Brown’s Body. Honorific to the extent of being worshipful—perhaps in Griffith’s ongoing effort to distance himself from Birth of a Nation’s outdated attitudes— the film also seems somewhat wooden and perfunctory now, partially because it blazes through the entirety of Lincoln’s life, sacrificing depth for breadth. Future filmmakers would learn it’s easier and more effective to deal with Lincoln’s biography in chunks. John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) and John Cromwell’s Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940) both deal with the pre-presidential years, while Spielberg’s new film confines itself to Lincoln’s final months. Griffith, however, takes us all the way from birth to death in what amounts to a series of historical vignettes.

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  5. Idebenone says:

    It was even apparent just from watching the trailer for the film that the stuff that landed on screen didn’t quite mesh with its own almost-parodic title. And that there are just certain moments in history that, no matter the earnestness of intention, are too big and nation-defining to be able to successfully accentuate after the addition of vampires. As if to say that what Lincoln did, on his own as a Congressman and then as our 16th President, wasn’t legendary enough for our own lore. That he actually had to physically get in there himself and, with the help of some wire work and bullet time, shove his axe down a bunch of vampire confederates’ throats. Bottom line: This was just a hard story to pull off without making a revered man laughable.

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