Title: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Directed By: Timur Bekmambetov
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Marton Csokas, Jimmi Simpson
If you’re going to make a movie about Abraham Lincoln and call him a vampire hunter, the first order of business needs to be a convincing script. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, step one? A definite failure and that initial travesty sucks the life out of what could have been an intriguing concept. Then again, even if the story had been rock solid to start, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has so many trouble spots, something would have dragged the production down eventually.
Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) isn’t just the 16th President of the United States; he’s also a vampire hunter. Even as a young boy, Abe fought for equality. When his free black friend, Will Johnson, is whipped, Abe lashes out at his attacker, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas). When Barts turns his whip on Abe, Abe’s parents step in. While they manage to quell the situation, Barts threatens the family and shortly after, while Abe watches, his mother is killed. However, it isn’t the Barts Abe saw early that snuck into their home late at night; he looked different.
Years later Abe is all grown up, but still carrying around the desperation to avenge his mother’s death. Gun in hand and belly full of booze, tonight’s the night Abe puts a bullet through Barts’ head. But taking down a vampire requires much more than that and, should Abe honor all of his rules, Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) agrees to teach him the ways of the vampire hunter.
At first the idea of Abraham Lincoln being a vampire hunter is, for lack of better terms, pretty cool. On second thought, this alternate version of US history is downright absurd. It’s often quite fun to suspend disbelief for the sake of a film, but the fact that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has some true roots, leaves the viewer straddling both realms and being convinced of neither. The thought process behind the story is too obvious. While watching the film, you can practically picture Grahame-Smith sitting there, isolating parts of Lincoln’s history that can be twisted, blamed on vampires and then patting himself on the back for how clever he is.
And that’s not to say a distorted version of a factual event can’t make a good movie. Look at Inglourious Basterds! But the difference between that and this is that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is simply poorly written. It’s a 3D movie with entirely one-dimensional characters.
Besides the fact that Walker is Abraham Lincoln, there’s really nothing special about him. He certainly has an arc, but Grahame-Smith never manages to establish any emotional connection between Abe and the audience, so when he does begin his mission and his life is in danger, it’s tough to care. And same goes for all of his pals, too. Poor Mary Elizabeth Winstead suffers the most as Mary Todd. She’s your typical love interest prop almost all the way through. When she finally does get a fairly emotional scene, she handles it so incredibly well, it stands out too much from the rest of her material and it’s tough not to almost pity Winstead for having given that her all when the rest is all so one-note.
Anthony Mackie makes for a fine older Will Johnson and Jimmi Simpson puts on a good show as Abe’s employer-turned-associate Joshua Speed, but their friendship is a major missed opportunity. Rather than actually layer their bond, it’s merely laid out in black and white and you’re expected to believe that Abe would risk his life for either of them. While that dedication to his friends does come through, there’s little to no passion behind it, making one of Abe’s bigger battles wholly underwhelming.
This just should have been Henry Sturgess’ story. Sturgess is a far more colorful character than any of them and Cooper seizes the opportunity. But even having the benefit of working with better material, it’s still easy to tell that Cooper is one of the more talented of the bunch. Rather than just look the part and read the lines, Cooper entirely lets himself go, totally becoming Sturgess.
But even if we were to get a Henry Sturgess movie, something needs to be done about the visuals. Timur Bekmambetov has some fantastic ideas and a number of them work very well, but his style is just all over the place. The action is effect heavy and quite cartoonish. The CG sequences are often reduced to grayish hues and stripped of detail, giving the shots a watercolor-like feel. On the other hand, portions of this piece are also incredibly vibrant and noticeably sharp. Not only do the two clash entirely as far as the flow of the film goes, but by intercutting them, Bekmambetov does a major disservice to the effects, making them look worse than they are.
Is there some fun to be had in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter? Perhaps, but this isn’t one where you can just sit back, relax and enjoy; you’ll actually have to make an effort to open yourself up to this material and the result just isn’t worth that work.