The Better Angels begins with a quote from Abraham Lincoln: "All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my Angel mother." Terrance Malick film veteran (editor), A.J. Edwards, directs a film that is not as much about the aforementioned historical figure as much as it is about childhood. Though the film follows the well-known biographical beats of Lincoln's youth—his father's adherence to labor over studies, his mother's death by milk sick, his experience with wrestling, his close relationship to his stepmother—the film never takes on an aggressively Lincolnesque aura. Except for when it does. There are some points when Miller's film seems as if it aims to be subtle, focusing more on small details of rural American life and only hinting at a connection to Lincoln. The film begins with glimpses into the Lincoln Memorial, but never shows the president's statue. Scenes of Lincoln reading with his birth-mother, Nancy (played by Brit Marling) show early hints of a gentle nature in the boy; she places a mantis on his hand and he lets it crawl along him. The effect that Tom Lincoln (played by Wes Bentley) has on his son's life is more of an imposing authority than a father; his head is often cut out of frame as he looms over Lincoln, who is played by Jason Clarke. It is also shown that Tom regularly whips his son (like a slave), a situation that Abe has come accustomed to. This is done to the horror of Abe's stepmother, Sarah (played by Diane Kruger). This is a quality that could be applied to many children of the time, and does not need to be exclusive to Lincoln. The film is extremely meditative, filled with lengthy sequences of atmospheric shots of the woods with little to no dialogue. So, the lack of tie-in to Lincoln's biography may seem appropriate. However, the film seems to get caught in a twilight zone. Some scenes are far from subtle, most notably a scene when the young Abe witnesses a group of slaves being lead in chains. In addition to the fact that it is recorded that Lincoln did not come to witness the horrors of slavery until later in his life, the scene shifts the tone of the film from hinting at Abraham Lincoln's relationships with others to flat out spelling out to the audience: 'this is why Abraham Lincoln did not like slavery.' What also sticks out in this film is its lack of substance. Though it focuses on the relationships that shaped Lincoln from a youth, there is not much emphasis on the impact that these events have on Lincoln. The beautiful black-and-white visuals lose their merit for the most part since little is shown to have much of an impression (save for a scene in which milk sick is given a palpable, albeit strobe-light filled effect). Another odd choice is the aggressively choppy editing. That being said, the cinematography and framing work is enticing; the camera moves almost like a ghost through these childhood memories. That is what this film is: a series of memories. However, without enough substance to bring the characters to life or tell a historical story about Lincoln, and with too much history to be a meditative look at childhood, the film, in my opinion, falls apart. There is a lot of promise in Edwards' directing to be seen here, but a later film may use these tactics more effectively.