Film Review: Abraham Lincoln – Vampire Hunter
Producer: 20th Century Fox (Director: Tim Burton / Timur Bekmambetov)
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Rufus Sewell.
On paper this sounded like a mad idea to begin with, you take a historical figure and twist events in his life to make it suitable for cinema… for the average cinema-goer. This is actually based on a 2010 novel by Seth Graheme-Smith, which is essentially a parody of the title character’s historical memoirs. This was the same author that penned “Pride and Prejudice, and Zombies”, “Sense and Sensibility, and Sea Monsters” – a series that has a cult following but is frequently vilified by critics. Vampires of course are the current ‘In-Thing’ so this was the safest bet for 20th Century Fox to go with; Even if the film got absolutely hammered by critics during release it could potentially make it’s money back by simply having something popular and trendy in it. This was an extremely hard sell to me because I appreciate ‘accurate’ historical films/series’ such as “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “Band of Brothers”. Peronsally I’m extremely harsh on bastardisations of established tropes, which is why I hold so much hatred for the “Twilight” series. I won’t deny I went into this with VERY low expectations, there only being a 3D screening (Which for the record, I think is an over-rated cash-grabbing gimmick) available didn’t make the prospects of a good time any better. Predictably critics had given the film a beating on sites such as RottenTomatoes, which I usually highly recommend… Now that I have seen the film I can say to people who say “The majority cannot be wrong” – “Yes, they can”.
In 1818, a young Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) lives in Indiana with his parents, Nancy (Robin McLeavy) and Thomas (Joseph Mawle), who works at a plantation owned by Jack Barts (Marton Csokas). There, Lincoln befriends a young African American boy, William Johnson (Anthony Mackie), and intervenes when he sees Johnson being beaten by a slaver. Because of his son’s actions, Thomas is fired. That night, Lincoln sees Barts break into his house and attack Nancy. She falls ill the following day, and dies shortly afterwards. Thomas tells Lincoln that Barts poisoned Nancy because of the fallout at the plantation. Nine years later, an adolescent Lincoln works up the nerve to plot revenge against Barts. He attacks Barts at the docks, but Barts, who is actually a vampire, easily overpowers him. However, before Barts can kill him, Lincoln is rescued by Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper). Taking the battered and beaten Lincoln home with him Sturgess explains that vampires actually exist, and offers to teach Lincoln to be a vampire hunter seeing his potential. Along the way Lincoln becomes interested in politics and takes it on as a 2nd career on top of his hunting duties.
The plot is actually pretty well done and incorporates horror/drama elements competently, not perfectly. The relationship between Lincoln and Sturgess is a lot like that of Bruce Wayne and Ras Al Gul (Batman Begins), the comparisons are completely justified and pretty hard to miss. The film sadly does not take much time exploring how this relationship develops and instead fast-tracks the audience through it via a montage. I’ll not spoil too much but there is actually a lot about Sturgess’ character, so much that it really deserves it’s own separate film. America’s best president is played pretty well by Benjamin Walker, the two main characters are easily the best in this film. It’s not that the supporting roles by Mary Elizabeth-Winsted and Rufus Sewel are terrible… it’s just they’re not given a whole lot to do except stand there and look important when they’re not. Sewel’s motivations are very weak for an antagonist… frankly they’re laughable:’Create a Nation of Mindless Undead’. Seriously? That’s it? The film’s cast of characters in general are weak with the exception of Lincoln and Sturgess, seriously the film should have just been about Sturgess training and teaching an average 19th century orphan about hunting the undead hordes. It’s really hard to justify why certain characters should even be in the story besides filling a token role or being there to make the film coincide more accurately with the real life events of Abraham Lincoln.
Moving on from the characters for now I’d best go into the action segments, which feel a LOT like Timur has been watching too many Zack Synider films. Slow motion is used rather excessively and the action would feel a lot more brutal and punchy if it was shot in real-time. It might be my personal preference there but slowing down the camera just so show dismembered limbs flying around and blood splattering in creative arcs just does not do it for me. The fast paced alternative is used to brilliant effect in films like “The Bourne Identity” and “Mission Impossible” where each punch/slash/bullet hits that much harder. Look at it this way: If you have seen the Bourne films think back to the action sequences and count how many times you recoiled or jumped during them. When a punch landed it felt like it genuinely hurt, that just doesn’t happen here – Slow motion looks cool but it gets stale really damn fast. This also drags out the fight scenes and made me hope that Abe would just get on with it.
The final set piece is impressive but again uses too much slow motion so the novelty overstays it’s welcome and your attention will inevitably wander. Coming back to the two main characters before I wrap this up, the film SHOULD have been about them and their relationship and joint quest for revenge. The final scene of the film is probably one of the best and under other circumstances would probably set up the film I wish this could have been. The film ends up being prevented from doing things outside of it’s jurisdiction by it’s main character and his history, it’s just not bold enough do what Tarantino did in “Inglorious Bastards”. You know that Abraham Lincoln will survive his quest for revenge otherwise the film loses even more credibility, this really kills a lot of the suspense and since this is a horror/action film… that really counts against it.
This is a competent but uninspired take on the vampire horror genre that occasionally challenges and changes the mythology behind the undead bloodsuckers in a way that feels more like “Angel” or “Blade” than say… “Twilight”, thankfully.
It won’t appeal to everyone because of it’s silly premise alone but if people can get around that first hurdle and successful ignore the technical problems with it, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter should do it for you. The two leads can only do so much for the film, it’s worth seeing it just for those two characters really. If you don’t see it in the cinema, at least rent it if you were on the verge of seeing it in theaters.