Thursday, June 21, 2012
Review of ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER (2012)
- Rated R for violence throughout and brief sexuality.
- Starring Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Jimmi Simpson. Marton Csokas
- Written by Seith Grahame-Smith (Based on his novel)
- Directed by Timur Bekmambetov
- Running time: 1hr 44min.
Based on the recent cult novel, obviously this is not an accurate historic account of Abraham Lincoln, though that'd be awesome if it was. No, this is a crazy take on history. When Abe was a boy, his mother was killed by a vampire and has been craving vengeance ever since. 9 years later, the future president (Walker) is all grown up and plans on seeking the creature out, but he has no clue what he is about to face. Luckily he meets a mysterious stranger named Henry (Cooper) who has experience fighting vamps and offers to train him. The first half of the movie shows how he becomes a full fledged, axe wielding vampire hunter, and also shows how he met Mrs. Lincoln (Winstead). The second half jumps ahead to the civil war when Abe (now with the full beard) discovers that the South has employed vampires as soldiers, and must deliver a bunch of silver (which kills vampire I guess) on train to the Northern armies. Oh yeah, and there's a villain vampire (Sewell) who wants to take over the states too.
Obviously, this is not to be taken seriously. Or is it? I expected this to be a tongue-in-cheek B-flick with tons of over the top gore and silliness. Instead, the movie is played extremely straight and surprisingly serious. I actually admired this approach. It's a ballsy move and the filmmakers almost pull it off. The premise is kind of fun and some of the action scenes are thrilling. But there are too many inconsistencies for this to be a complete success.
The good begins with Benjamin Walker as honest Abe. His commitment to an ultra serious performance makes the film grounded in a kind of a certain warped reality. He also resembles Liam Neeson a bit, which is kind of a strange coincidence since at one point he was slated to play Lincoln years ago in a biopic. Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Mrs Lincoln is underwritten but she still manages to make in an impression during a few dramatic moments. Dominic "I still haven't found a razor I liked" Cooper is appropriately grizzled as the veteran vampire hunter. Anthony Mackie is probably the most underused as Lincoln's black childhood friend. Rupert Sewell is fine as the villain but am I the only one who is getting sick of him being the villain in period pieces? Seriously! Every time there is a period piece that needs a generic bad guy (A KNIGHT'S TALE, LEGEND OF ZORRO, TRISTAN + ISOLDE), he's the guy to call I guess?
So the acting is mostly fine, but the characters aren't developed very well. It's not surprising cause this was written by the same guy who wrote Tim Burton's DARK SHADOWS, which had the same type of character problems. No one is fleshed out, with the exception of Lincoln. Everyone else is kind of in the background and pops up to the front when the script calls for it. Now, you may be thinking that with a movie called ABRAHAM LINCOLN VAMPIRE HUNTER, the story shouldn't really matter since it's all about killing the undead. But the movie does try to be taken seriously and it wants you to care about the characters, but it's hard to when we don't know much about them.
The look of the film is pretty cool. The filmmakers do a decent job creating an almost gothic look to America in the 1800's. There's also a darkly creepy atmosphere throughout the movie that works well. Director Timur Bekmambetov employs his usual filming techniques, which is both good and bad. If you've seen any of his previous films (NIGHTWATCH, DAYWATCH, WANTED) then you know that he tends to rely on CGI-heavy effects and tricks. He loves using that "slow-down/speed-up" technique that tends to distract from the action more than enhancing it. But I've never liked this effect, even in 300. Besides that, with the exception of a ridiculous and almost incoherent chase that takes place on top of a stampede of horses, most of the action scenes are well choreographed and storyboarded. The finale on top of the train was probably the best set piece, but there's some other cool ones too. There's something film geeky awesome about Abraham Lincoln killing vampires with an axe that has a shotgun hidden inside.
I also felt that the movie should have been more condensed. The first and last hour of the movie felt like 2 different movies. It was like part 1 and part 2 condensed into one feature. By doing this the movie feels like it's cheating the audience out of a fully rounded story. Parts seem to be missing, especially when you jump over 30 years in time. This really should have been 2 movies, but I know it couldn't because I'm sure there wouldn't have been an audience demand for it. But on the bright side and completely unrelated, Henry Jackman has composed a western-badass flavored score. He's really growing into one of the more interesting composers working in Hollywood.
I do think there is a following for this movie. Viewers that don't mind weak characterizations and plot holes may be more forgiving. If you're looking for some violent vampire battles with some clever jabs at American History, you'll probably be satisfied. This almost works, but the script isn't realized enough to be fully satisfying. It all looks cool and dandy, but it's cold blooded.
**1/2 (out of ****)