National Geographic premiered its docudrama Killing Lincoln on Feb. 17. This is one of several shows that recently aired exploring our fascinating and conflicted 16th president. Killing Lincoln is based off of Bill O'Reilly's best seller and offers a blow-by-blow account of the last days and hours of Lincoln's life.
Killing Lincoln is an interesting hybrid between reenactment and documentary. It's narrated by Tom Hanks and gives us an oversight on the events leading to Lincoln's assassination and John Wilkes Booth's botched escape. While the narration is interesting, it does create a break in the drama and keeps you from becoming totally immersed in the unfolding drama.
It's definitely a lot less dry than historian and experts interviews, but it doesn't quite make the leap into a riveting story. Kevin Costner's Hatfields and McCoys did an excellent job of telling a tragic story with fascinating and flawed characters.
I'd love to see a version of Killing Lincoln that is all drama, perhaps from John Wilkes Booth's perspective. The highlight of this documentary is the performance by Jesse Johnson who is both riveting and disturbing as Booth who believes he is the South's savior. His grand plans of "decapitating the government" with a scheme involving the assassination of the president, vice president and secretary of state quickly unravel. Booth is shocked to learn he isn't greeted as a hero, but is hunted for the president's murder.
Killing Lincoln also delves into several side stories about the attending surgeon, a short-hand reporter and the people involved in Booth's plot. It is well done and fascinating, but under uses the drama in the reenactment sequences.