Saturday, June 23, 2012

'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' Review - A Bloody Fun Revisionist Take on American History

"History prefers legends to men. It prefers nobility to brutality, soaring speeches to wild deeds. History remembers the battle, but forgets the blood. However history remembers me before I was a President, it shall only remember a fraction of the truth..." So begins the opening monologue of director Timur Bekmambetov's adaptation of the Seth Grahame-Smith's novel 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter'. The film follows the secret history of Abraham Lincoln, America's sixteenth president, whose life has been haunted by the undead. As a fan of the book, I couldn't wait to see the movie, but I was cautious going in to believe it could meet my expectations. But thankfully, director Bekmambetov, stars Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, producer Tim Burton, and author Grahame-Smith have made a thrilling, fun, and stylish movie that really fires on all cylinders and never really disappoints.

When Abe's mother Nancy is taken from him at the age of eleven by the hands of a vampire named Jack Barts, Abe lives with the guilt and pain for years. But as the time passes, the pain becomes a build up of anger and revenge, and he wants to get the man that caused her death. Nine years later, after the passing of his father, Abe (Walker) seeks out to confront Barts, only to discover that the man has been hiding a horrible secret: Barts is a Vampire. When Lincoln discovers this, his plan goes horribly wrong, and he's saved by a man named Henry Sturges (Cooper). Sturges reveals that vampires are very real, and that Barts was only the beginning. Taking Abe under his tutelage, and he trains him in the ways of vampire hunting. But as the war they've waged with the vampires wages on, it begins to cross into Lincoln's personal and professional life, something he never expected. 

For me, 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' is not only great as an action movie, but also as a historical adaptation. Seth Grahame-Smith, who wrote the novel and the film, did a lot of research on Lincoln's life to make sure the story was as close to historically accurate as possible. And the work shows. The movie rockets through Lincoln's life in many of the most important events that history knows him for, while giving us a substantial look into his secret history as well. While the book could flesh out both more, the movie really does a good job of balancing both out well. I feel like the movie could have maybe been twenty or so minutes longer, just to really delve into the more of Abe's personal life and his interactions with his friends Will (Anthony Mackie) and Speed (Jimmi Simpson), and his wife Mary Todd Lincoln (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). But for being just under two hours, the movie really does zip along through Lincoln's entire life, and we get to see him go from the small town boy to the leader of the United States.

The movie wouldn't work nearly as well if it wasn't for the cast, who really bring these historical characters to life. First and foremost, I can't help but praise Benjamin Walker's performance as Abraham Lincoln. He does a great job as Honest Abe, playing him from the age of twenty until the end of his life. He really becomes the man we've all grown up reading and learning about, completely down to his voice. I was very impressed with him, and he has quickly become an actor I'll be keeping an eye on. Dominic Cooper, who plays Henry Sturges, is also really quite good. His chemistry with Walker is great, and the two really play well off each other. Cooper really plays the secretive, smart, fast talking, yet caring friend, well. I couldn't imagine anyone else in the role. Mary Elizabeth Winstead was quite good as Mary Todd Lincoln, even if she isn't given a ton to do throughout the movie. Since the movie is so short, she and the other supporting characters don't get a ton of time, but the time they get gives them a chance to really stand out. Anthony Mackie, who plays William H. Johnson, is also very good. His screen time is spent mostly with Walker's Lincoln, and the two really work well together. Mackie also adds some good comic relief that worked in the movies favor. Of course, I can't leave out Rufus Sewell who plays the movies big bad, Adam. He's great as the bad guy, playing him just the right amount of sophisticated yet creepy, but he isn't given enough time to really get fleshed out. He basically plays the Bond villain bent on global domination, because he feels that Vampires deserve their due and he wants the USA for himself. But that's really about as much as we learn or know about the character, and not much more. I think there is a stronger bad guy on the cutting room floor, which I'm very curious to find out about once the movie hits home video. 

Thankfully, even if the big bad isn't fleshed out a ton, there are a lot of henchmen that Lincoln gets to take on that made me look past that. We never learn much about them, but watching Lincoln take them all out is quite fun. I really like Timur's style, and I feel like it works perfectly for this movie. The slow motion, while many might think is over the top, actually works in the movies favor for me. It really gave me a chance to enjoy the fight scenes and enjoy the visuals. Two scenes in particular, one featuring Abe and one of his marks fighting during a horse stampede, and the finale on board a moving train really stick out to me. The fight scenes were slick, fun, and strangely beautiful in their violent glory. Walker seemed to be having a ton of fun as Abe, and it really shows. He really threw himself into the action scenes and the character, and it all works.  

'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' isn't going to be for everyone. But I think those that can look past just ridiculous how the movie is will really enjoy it. While it isn't a perfect movie, it's a lot of fun. The actors are all great in their respected roles, although I can't help but think that they could be even better if they were given extra time to shine. But all that aside, they're still very good, and on top of the action and historical accuracy of the film really help elevate this from what could be a huge train wreck. The blending of history and fantasy really works, and Grahame-Smith's witty script and dialogue really keep the movie going quickly as it rushes forward. This, for me, was just a really great time at the movies. Going in with an open mind will really help people enjoy it more. It's a perfect summer movie, and I can't wait to see it again. 

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