I was never able to see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter during its brief theatrical run, and after watching it on BluRay I am sorry that I missed seeing it in 3D. This was a fun romp through an alternate reality version of our revered 16th President’s life that I ate up completely.
When young Abraham Lincoln’s (Benjamin Walker) mother is killed by a vampire he vows to avenge her death by any means necessary. He trains with a vampire (Dominic Cooper) who hunts his own kind and learns how to kill his enemy in the most efficient way possible with a silver coated axe. Along the way he meets Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), battles in court for equal rights, becomes president of the US and quells the Civil War.
The acting is played completely straight, regardless of the ridiculousness that surrounds the characters. I think this was what sold me on the concept. If the characters look like they are taking the situations they find themselves in seriously, I can more easily buy into all the craziness flashing by on screen no matter how utterly ludicrous it may be.
Benjamin Walker, who plays the titular character, is not a bad actor. My problem is that he looks completely bewildered for the entire film. I know he’s a stage actor and was discovered playing Lincoln in an off-Broadway production which led to his being cast in this role, but the thing is that he looks like he’s ready to shit his pants whenever he’s on screen. He looks tense, confused and lost as if the pressure of taking the lead in an effects filled late summer tentpole film is too much for him to handle. I like him, but here he’s too stiff. Mind you, I didn’t expect him to ham it up or be self-defacing, but he does need to relax and his performance suffers due to it. He does, however, excel in his multiple action scenes.
The other performers all give uniformly decent turns as other characters from history, such as Jimmi Simpson as Joshua Speed and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary Todd Lincoln. I especially liked Anthony Mackie’s Will Johnson. He’s a fine actor who I feel will be going places in the future (he’s currently lobbying to play The Falcon in The Avengers 2).
I will admit that I’m sick of seeing the awesome Rufus Sewell playing villains. Sure he has a certain look that makes him ideal for those roles, but I’ve also seen him play heroes (Dark City) and he excels at those just as much as the bad guys. Please Hollywood, stop typecasting this dude and give him another chance to show us what he can do!
Another aspect I liked about the flick is the way it plays with what would pass for a modern day action scene and gives it a historical twist. For example, Lincoln chases his mother’s killer, Jack Barts (the great Marton Csokas), across a field during a horse stampede. They jump from horseback to horseback, sometimes riding one while fighting or being dragged behind one. It’s filmed and choreographed as if it were a car chase scene with horses standing in for the cars. I thought it was pretty clever idea on the filmmaker’s part and made for one of the better action scenes.
The action is pretty awesome, which is par the course for director Timur Bekmambetov. His past films Night Watch, Day Watch and Wanted were filled with inventive scenes of chaos and mayhem and I expected no different here. I got that and more. The action comes right out of crazytown with people being thrown vertically through storefronts, insane fights aboard a speeding train, Civil War reenactments with vampires standing in for the Confederate army and amazing martial art combat. I was in hog’s heaven during some of this stuff. It’s also a nice contrast to the aforementioned serious tone and earnest acting.
Bekmambetov is known for being a superior visual stylist and he doesn’t disappoint with this film. From the crazy fog and glowing ember filled exteriors of the train set piece to a simple scene of Lincoln and Mary having a picnic in the park, he gives everything a flair that most directors only dream about. The camera is always moving and sometimes you don’t even notice it. The colors are rich and luscious in the outdoor scenes, especially in parts taking place at dawn or dusk. The fashions of the time don’t add much in the way of color variance, but he makes up for it in the set design and lighting set-ups. No one can complain about the look of the film. His narrative talents may leave something to be desired, but he knows what makes for a good looking movie, no doubt.
There are issues that I have, like that a good 20 years of Lincoln’s life is skipped over just to get to the Civil War bits faster and the old age make-up that Walker and Winstead wear during this section is pretty awful looking. The villain is eliminated in a very anticlimactic way and the movie just sort of ends with little fanfare. I would have liked to see a vampire be the one to take Lincoln out in the theater instead of a Confederate sympathizer to cap off all the reality bending taking place over film’s runtime.
Even though most people shrugged this movie off as a cheesy and tonally inconsistent piece of late summer crap, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I may not be an expert on history, but I know certain details and felt this was a clever and entertaining mix of fact and fiction. Now I just need to get off my ass and finish reading the novel this was based on.
Bring on George Washington: Zombie Assassin!
4 out of 5