ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER Review

The expectations I was holding for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter were likely way too high. I wanted so bad for it to defy all those dismissing it and doubting it as nothing more than a piece of camp without an ounce of intelligence. That is not what the book was, it followed the historical facts down to every detail and was smart enough to justify its ridiculous premise through twists of truth on those real, historical occurrences. The movie on the other hand plays fast and loose with these facts and makes so many amends to its source material it can hardly even be called an adaptation. This might as well have been a slapdash effort thrown together by Robert Rodriguez and pushed off on an amateur director allowing them to get their toes wet on a studio production. Its obvious the studio behind Vampire Hunter doesn't hardly believe in it though and despite a few inspired sequences of intense action the movie ends up feeling more like its villains than the complex icon it has positioned as its protagonist. The film is cold and heartless with hardly an ounce of real human emotion being divulged from the actions taking place on screen. Despite the whole motivation for Linclon's hatred of vampires being the death of his mother you would be hard pressed to find an ounce of real conviction or substance in the character that stage actor Benjamin Walker has brought to the screen. I knew not to expect a carbon copy of what happened in the book, I expected things to be changed and condensed but I did not expect to see something less than a cliff notes version of Seth Grahame-Smith's interesting and much more entertaining novel.

Benjamin Walker portrays our 16th President over a
span of 45 years in the film.
Granted, the whole point of this novel, of its premise was to see our 16th President as an action hero. Still, I didn't think the man who crafted such a brilliantly twisted piece of contradictions that ended up melding so nicely would turn his clearly well researched novel into a standard action flick of a film. That is more or less what we have here though with the twist that Lincoln is in the hot seat to carry out the revenge tale. What is so disappointing about the film is that they don't seem to take advantage of this. Lincoln was clearly a complex individual with a lot of struggles through his life. He really did lose his mother at a young age and it was a devastating loss, he and Mary Todd had four children only one of which survived to adulthood and he is the President who went against the wishes of his cabinet, his people even for the betterment of the country.  This belief in what he knew was right served him well in getting re-elected for that second term and this telling of his story uses his presidency well to justify the cause of such a man in such a position. In the novel he becomes allies early on with a vampire named Henry Sturges played here by Dominic Cooper, one of the few bright spots in the film. Sturges guides a young Lincoln on his monster hunting sprees as Abraham tries to quench his thirst of revenge on the things that took his mother. He also puts him in office so that he can do away with the main source of food vampires thrive on: slaves. It all works very nicely but for some reason Grahame-Smith thought it better that the movie version needed to show Lincoln and Henry at odds with one another while Abraham obtains the coveted title through his own free will. Not only does it make less sense, give the whole point of the premise less credibility but the film fails to even acknowledge key points in his life like that of him winning the election or the birth of his child. They throw in the Gettysburg address and focus on the love story between he and Mary Todd though which I guess is supposed to make up for everything else.

Adam (Rufus Sewell) is a bad vampire who means to
stop Mr. Lincoln.
That Grahame-Smith adapted his own book into this resulting screenplay gives me the feeling he had some serious pressure on him to turn the promising title into the most standard of fare so as the studio wouldn't be at too much of a risk. If you're gonna do it though, go all out. In what is the most disappointing aspect of the transition from page to screen is the fact the author felt it necessary to culminate all of the vampire enemies Lincoln has in the book to one bad guy inparticular. While Rufus Sewell is more than capable of handling these duties it came off as just another piece of evidence that the qualities so commendable about the book were squandered here. As Adam, Sewell is the leader of his kind and is a wealthy plantation owner in the south that has a certain intertwining history with Lincoln's mentor Henry. While Lincoln becomes rather good at his vampire killing skills he naturally gains some recognition by their head honcho. That Lincoln becomes President leads Adam to instigate the Civil War as he knows Lincoln is out to rid the country of the undead. This all fits into place nicely and director Timur Bekmambetov takes advantage of the action pieces by staging inventive and different fight scenes but he falls flat on the stuff that happens inbetween. Any scenes containing dialogue are rushed and feel more like chopped together bits of a montage rather than one coherent film. He literally caused the editor to fade out of every scene even if it was a few minutes long. The tone is way off which makes you wonder how he pulled off a nice piece of cheeky filmmaking like Wanted a few years ago. If he would have applied the same tone to this film as he did that one we would have at least been watching a film that has style and purpose. Instead what we have been served is a film floating on the promises of its great name. It thinks it can get away with not being that great, being absolutely standard because of the time period and people it involves mashed up with something as crazy as bloodthirsty vampires. Too bad it's not fooling anyone.

Will (Anthony Mackie) and Abe try to stop the blood-
suckers on their way to Gettysburg.
I hate to think that I only disliked the film so much because of the fact I read the book, but I have no doubt that certainly added to my disappointment. Still, even if I had not given the book a chance I feel that the end result would not have lived up to my optimistic expectations for it. Though critics and audiences alike seemed to dismiss it I rather enjoyed Dark Shadows earlier this summer. Directed by Vampire Hunter's big name producer Tim Burton and also scripted by Grahame-Smith I found it to be funny and entertaining with a nice twist on the vampire lore. I expected to enjoy this twist on it much more, but unfortunately I can't even recommend this to those who aren't familiar with the source material. That hurts because I wanted so bad to be proven right by the naysayers who laughed at the trailers for this. I thought I "got it" and with the author behind the movie version I believed it stood a chance of getting a fine interpretation. A fine enough cast has been assembled as with the aforementioned Cooper as well as the likes of Anthony Mackie and Jimmi Simpson playing Abe's lifelong friends Will and Speed. Mary Elizabeth Winstead turns in a passable performane as Mrs. Lincoln though her filmography only drags down the credibility I was hoping the film would carry (except for you Scott Pilgrim, you were great no matter what). Is it worth spending two hours on? Probably not unless you just want to see Bekmambetov's well staged action pieces, but it certainly isn't worth shelling out extra bucks for 3D or large screen formats. It takes about as much advantage of these aspects as it does the fact it has Abraham Lincoln killing vampires. Not much.