Theatrical Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States and considered one of the greatest presidents of all time, has led a secret double life. As young boy, Lincoln witnesses the murder of his mother at the hands of a vampire, though at the time that was unknown to him. Young Abe has pledged his vengeance and one day he gets the chance when he’s approached by Henry Sturgess who explains all thing vampire to him. As time passes, Abe uses his newfound skills to dispatch vampires who threaten the land, while building himself up as a statesman and marrying Mary Todd. All the while, a plot is brewing as Adam, the leader of the vampires in America, Is aligning himself with the South to win the Civil War and take the United States of America for his kind.

That is the utterly absurd premise to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter the latest movie from director Timur Bekmambetov who’s previously directed Wanted, Night Watch and Day Watch. It’s adapted from the popular novel by Seth Grahame-Smith who’s also written the screenplay for this film. Yes, I said “utterly absurd” above, but don’t take that as derogative in the slightest; Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is really a lot of fun and certainly a very different kind of vampire movie than what we’re used to seeing in recent times.

I’ve not read the novel, though I’ve heard a lot about it. From what I understand, the approach taken in the novel is more satirical than anything else and that’s not the case with the movie. This movie takes it’s story and it’s characters very seriously, but thanks to Bekmambetov’s over-the-top style of action and filmmaking, that sort of takes the place of the satire and makes this more of something like a classic “tall tale” along the lines of Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed. Even though it is serious, it’s not without it’s moments of humor. That and it’s extreme action sequences certainly brought a smile to my face throughout the film.

It’s not without it’s problems though. As the movie makes the jump from the younger Abe using his new skills to the older presidential version, there seems to be a slight shift in it’s pacing. Certain places of the film seem disjointed and some portions of the narrative seem to (at least to me) be out of place. It all still makes sense in the end, but the back third of the film just doesn’t seem to have the same vitality that’s displayed in the first two thirds.

But still, the movie looks fantastic and it uses it’s 3D very effectively with loads of moments that are in your face. Some will dislike Bekmambetov’s use of CGI and slow motion techniques, but personally, I thought it was all good and just further played into the whole “tall tale” aspect of this whole thing.

Benjamin Walker plays Abraham Lincoln and for the most part, this kid is unknown to me. If this movie is any indication though, Walker is a talent to be watched.. Physically, he reminds me of what you might get if you crossed Liam Neeson with Randy Quaid and that’s not meant in any sort of insulting way at all. His figure is very different from the sort of action hero you’d be used to seeing in this type of thing and watching him in the action scenes was really a lot of fun. But he’s got the acting chops as well and casts a genuine air of earnestness throughout the film. Walker does indeed carry this film.

Walker’s got a lot of great support with Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie and Jimmi Simpson playing his allies in war against the vampires. Cooper, who plays Henry Sturgess, in particular is a lot of fun and he’s attacking this part with great gusto. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Mary Todd and she and Walker, at least to me, have genuine chemistry, though it’s not in the same sense that you’d see in a contemporary relationship.

Rufus Sewell, Martin Csokas and Erin Wasson play the villains of this piece. Sewell plays Adam, the leader of the vampires, and he just brings the proper weight to the part. Martin Csokas plays Jack Barts, the vampire who starts young Abe on his quest, and he’s very much a vicious character who you’re genuinely glad to see get what’s coming to him after one of the film’s most absurd action scenes; a chase running across the backs of stampeding horses (really, you’ve got to see it). Erin Wasson plays Vadoma, Adam’s right-hand woman, and even though she doesn’t have a huge amount of lines, still makes up for it with presence; you notice her when she’s in a scene.

From what I’ve gathered from other reviews that I’ve read, there are huge portions of Grahame-Smith’s novel that aren’t in this film, with many of those same reviewers being heavily disappointed because they aren’t there. Considering that Grahame-Smith wrote the screenplay for the film, I’d like to think that he was OK with taking his novel and making it something quite a bit different for a summer action film, but that still may not stand to well with the purists. As I said above, I’ve not read the book myself, but after seeing the movie, I have to say I’m certainly interested in reading it, even though it’s not going to be the same thing that I saw on the big screen. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is absurd fun that just won me over in thanks to it’s over-the-top action and effects, it’s playfulness with history and a very earnest performance from Benjamin Walker in the title role. It may not sit well with some, but I had a terrific ride with this one, even with it’s above-mentioned problems.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

24. June 2012 by Darren Goodhart
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