Coming of Age at Gettysburg
Every country has them, those rousing speeches by politicians which linger long after the politician has passed on. In Britain we have countless Churchill speeches which stoke the patriotic fires whilst in America there are the wise words of Abe Lincoln and so on. But the thing is that when you have a movie built around one of these patriotic speeches it makes it a niche movie whose appeal is to the nation where that speech comes from. As such as a Brit watching "The Perfect Tribute" I was not moved in the same way as it appears many people were.
With his brother Carter (Campbell Scott) off fighting at Gettysburg with his Confederate colleagues his brother Benjamin (Lukas Haas) and parents eagerly wait news of him with Benjamin's naive innocence about the war making him believe his brother is a hero. So when they receive news from Carter that he was shot during the final day of Gettysburg and is now a prisoner in a Washington hospital the young man decides to sneak off and cross country to find his brother. Meanwhile Abraham Lincoln Jason Robards) is heavy hearted over the war and the failure of his men to finish things despite having an advantage and finds himself being invited to Gettysburg to speak when they decide to build a national cemetery there. Along the way Benjamin and Lincoln cross paths.
Now the interesting thing about "The Perfect Tribute" is that whilst we have two separate stories with Benjamin's travels across country from Atlanta to Washington and then Lincoln's story it is surprisingly Benjamin's story which takes centre stage. And Benjamin's story is a coming of age as we watch this young boy go from playing with his toy soldiers and thinking war is full of heroics to a boy who witnesses war and sees it isn't heroic forcing him to grow up quickly. It's a nice storyline and I would imagine that Benjamin's coming of age is supposed to be symbolic of America's coming of age during the war.
As for the Lincoln side of the story well to be brutally honest it left me a bit uninterested or at least until the two stories interweave. As I said these sorts of movies built around great political speeches and national moments tend to be patriotic affairs and so I would hope that American's would find this side more interesting and moving. Despite that I have to say I was impressed by Jason Robards' sensitive performance as Lincoln, bringing plenty of character out despite ending up playing second fiddle to Lukas Haas who as Benjamin gets more screen time.
What this all boils down to is that "The Perfect Tribute is by no means a bad movie but like so many movies built around patriotic speeches I feel it is a movie whose appeal will be greater for American's than anyone else.