Henry Sturgess: Dominic Cooper
Will Johnson: Anthony Mackie
Mary Todd Lincoln: Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Adam: Rufus Sewell
Jack Barts: Marton Csokas
Joshua Speed: Jimmi Simpson
20th Century Fox presents a film directed by Timur Bekmambetov. Written by Seth Grahame-Smith, based on his novel. Running time: 105 min. Rated R (for violence throughout and brief sexuality).
It has long been tradition in Hollywood when making a biopic to take some liberties with the history involved. Sometimes the facts are changed to add some sort of dramatic element to the story, or motivations are obscured to make a point. All to often audiences mistake “based on a true story” for meaning it plays like a history book. Somehow I don’t believe many people will make a similar mistake about the new film “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”, which takes the notion of artistic liberty to a new level.
Based on the popular novel, “AL:VH”—as it no doubt will become known for reasons of conversational convenience—is the first film adaptation of the fairly new literary trend in horror comedy to shape a supernatural story around historic facts for the purposes of pure silly fun. This new subgenre is populated by titles like “Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter” and “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”, both of which will surely find their way to your neighborhood metroplex in the next few years. The idea is to insert supernatural elements into well-known history and use real facts to support the supernatural in the story. In the best examples, these stories can be quite funny and clever. As a film, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” provides one of those good examples.
We are shown all the key points in Lincoln’s life. His mother’s death to milk sickness, except it wasn’t exactly milk sickness. The death of his son Willie might also have had something to do with vampires. We see his opposition to Stephen A. Douglas over the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which loosened some of the restrictions on slavery enacted by the Missouri Compromise. Douglas’s stance may have been to allow more slaves into southern hands so the vampires could feed. And we also discover just why the tide of the Civil War turned so suddenly at Gettysburg when the union troops were finally armed with silver-based ammunition.
The hidden truth of U.S. history isn’t so much the point of this endeavor as it is a chance to get to see one of America’s greatest ideological heroes turned into a literal superhero. I mean, c’mon. Who doesn’t want to see Abraham Lincoln kicking some vampire ass with an axe? Actually, it occurred to me, since the movie seems to take itself so seriously, that Lincoln himself might wonder just what kind of a mad world his nation has become were he to witness what we call entertainment today. But then, it’s the freedom he helped us achieved that allows us to honor him in this way, is it not?
So here we have an ultimate American action ode to one of our biggest obsessions of late—vampires! I mean this movie is American through and through. Except that in the director’s chair we have… a Russian? That’s right, a Ruskie has given us our first cinematic superhero president, but somehow Timur Bekmambetov is just about the perfect director for this absurdly patriotic material.
Bekmambetov first stirred international waters with his vampire fantasy saga “Night Watch” and its follow-up “Day Watch”. His first Hollywood production was the visually dynamic, but thematically awkward videogame style flick “Wanted”. In “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” Bekmambetov finds his stride. The period setting embraces his overproduced production design, featuring a good deal of sepia tone. The slow motion action he favors works well with this overwrought material. This film is also one of the rare cases where I can site a good use of the 3D format. There is a stunning horse chase scene that involves a stampede of horses and the superhuman strength of a vampire that must be seen to be believed. Well, maybe not “believed,” but it’s pretty well done.
Benjamin Walker (“Flags of Our Fathers”) comes out of nowhere to play our beloved top hat wearing hero. He’s charming. He’s funny. And he’s even handsome, in an Abraham Lincoln sort of way. I couldn’t help but notice how much he looks like Liam Neeson, who was originally slated to portray Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming biopic. Sure enough Walker played a younger version of Neeson’s character in the movie “Kinsey”. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) is also a dead ringer for Mary Todd. The makeup artists have a hard time hiding her beauty under he age makeup later in the film, but otherwise everyone ages just fine.