June 25, 2012

Movie Review: Abraham Lincoln - Vampire Hunter

You must admit, the fist time you heard the title Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, you thought it was a joke. It's all right, you aren't alone. It is a silly title and beyond that it is a silly idea. Think about what they did here, they took one of our greatest presidents, a rather serious and tumultuous time in our history and turned it into a big action, high concept action/horror romp. Do you want to know something that you may find surprising and perhaps a bit unbelievable? It is a fun movie, really, it is not bad. No, it is not perfect, but it gets a lot of things right and is certainly a lot of fun.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter does not make any attempt to hide what it is. The title tells you exactly what you should expect. We get Lincoln and we get vampires. The man who would be president, armed with a silver plated axe, went out, tracked down vampires, and killed them. It is a blast to watch.

Of course, the story takes great liberties with the period, rewriting Lincoln's life and some details of the Civil War to fit the new addition of vampires. We open right away with Abe's mother being killed by a vampire and this sealing the young boy's future as a vampire killer.

In all seriousness, there is not much to say about the story, it is what it is. Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) meets up with Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), teaches him the ways of vampire killing and hunting. We follow Abe as he studied to be a lawyer by day and takes out nasty vamps by night. This night work follows hi, all the way to his presidency, where we learn about how the vampires run rampant in the south and how they factor into the Civil War.

What really helps make this movie succeed where others of its ilk have failed is how it plays it, more or less, straight. There is certainly plenty of humor, but it is not of the silly variety. There is a level of sly cleverness at play that makes you laugh with them and not at them. You may snicker a little at the very idea, but the execution is done quote well.

It helps that the cast is pretty good from top to bottom. Benjamin Walker has a lot resting on his shoulders, so much rests with him to sell the role and reel us in. He handles himself admirably. Somewhat resembling a young Liam Neeson, Walker steps into the stovepipe hat and wields his axe with precision. It is easy to like the guy. He also has considerable chemistry with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who plays Mary Todd, the woman who would become Abe's wife.

The supporting cast is also solid. Along with Cooper, you have Anthony Mackie and Jimmi Simpson as those who choose to help Abe in his quest. On the other side of the coin is Martin Csokas and Rufus Sewell as the lead neck biters, clearly relishing their role as bad vamps. There is also model turned actress Erin Wasson as vampire enforcer Vadoma, and she ably handles herself.

The movie was adapted from the novel of the same name by the author, Seth Grahame-Smith. Now, I have not read the novel, but the movie's narrative seems to sag somewhat trough the middle. It is buoyed by the solid performances, but there is something a bit off in the pacing and flow of the story. It is not terribly detrimental, but I have to wonder what it might have been had the plot flowed a little better.

Where the movie shines is in its look and direction. Timur Bekmambetov is a visually exciting director, having helmed films like Wanted and Day Watch. He brings a wild eye to the special effects action sequences. Sure, the defy the laws of physics, but darn it, they are a lot of fun. There is some nicely staged vampire kills and that thrilling train top fight that are a just a joy to watch.

This is a movie that would be was to take a cynical, snarky approach to. I mean, the idea is kind of silly and it is no perfectly executed. However, I did it a lot more worthwhile to spend some with what the movie does right. The action, the straight faced/slyly humorous approach to the material, the admirable job Walker does to carry the film, and the overall fun that something like this delivers.



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