Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Monday, June 25, 2012

Four Score And Seven Vampires Ago

"....And that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a vampire to stake."

Every once in awhile, movie studios tend to put out two projects with the same theme within a few months of each other. Back in the nineties, there was Dante's Peak and Volcano taking on the notion of a natural disaster laying waste in America. A legendary Old West lawman got two different films within a few months in the form of Wyatt Earp and Tombstone. And of course the world itself was at stake due to an imminent cosmic collision with the films Deep Impact and Armageddon being released near to each other. This year is little different. Later in the year, Spielberg will be releasing a biopic of the greatest president in American history, with Daniel Day-Lewis in the role of Abraham Lincoln. At the moment, the new film Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter has just been released to theatres.

The film is based on the book by Seth Grahame-Smith, who earlier came up with the Jane Austen mashup Pride and Prejudice And Zombies. I particularly enjoyed the book, which was presented as a mix of narrative and letters, suggesting that Abe Lincoln, aside from becoming a lawyer, outstanding orator, and the saviour of his nation, spent much of his life waging a secret war against bloodsucking vampires. I wondered what might be done with it as a film, and as it turns out, the adaptation takes different turns from the novel, but still comes out as a satisfying, silly, and fun ride in the end.

As a boy, young Abe sees an attack on his mother by a man named Jack Barts (Marton Csokas, who might be recognizable to Lord of the Rings fans). She dies soon after, supposedly of poisoning. Years later, as a young man, Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) catches up to Barts, who is in fact a vampire. Lincoln encounters another man, Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper, from Captain America: The First Avenger), who takes him under his wing and helps him train to kill vampires. Sturgess himself is a vampire, a fact that he keeps to himself, not to mention his reasons for helping Lincoln.  

Benjamin Walker

Lincoln spends his off hours hunting and killing vampires, while making friends like Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson) and William Johnson (Anthony Mackie), and courting Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), his future wife. He achieves his revenge, and learns much more about vampires: that slavery benefits their kind enormously, that they are led by Adam (Rufus Sewell) and Vadoma (Erin Wasson), two Southern vampires with plans of their own for America, and that the undead include Sturgess himself.

Benjamin Walker and Dominic Cooper

Anthony Mackie and Benjamin Walker

Lincoln becomes President, and the Civil War erupts. During this time, one of his sons dies in a vampire attack, a fact that drives a wedge between Lincoln and his wife, and the President must continue to deal with the crisis unfolding in his country. Ultimately, the story leads to a crossroads in a small Pennsylvania town called Gettysburg (you may have heard of the place), where vampires are on the Confederate side (Jefferson Davis must be rolling over in his grave at how his reputation is completely skewered in the book and film, by the way). Lincoln himself must take up the battle against his old enemy once again. And no, the appearance of vampires at the Battle of Gettysburg wasn't in the history books.

Rufus Sewell

There's bound to be an inherant silliness in a film that weaves fact and fiction like this. Abraham Lincoln as a vampire hunter is an unlikely concept, and of course it's silly, but it's also fun. Grahame-Smith adapted the screenplay from his book, and it's a tongue in cheek sort of film that I quite enjoyed. It just requires a bit of suspension of disbelief. Director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) gives us a fast paced, rollicking bit of entertainment that doesn't take itself too seriously- even though the actors play it seriously- and is in the end a stylish mix of action and history, with a good sense of detail and pacing. The production is well done, with some thrilling sequences and action setpieces (particularly aboard a train), though there's a bit too much reliance on the slow-down editing tricks we see too often these days in action films.

Erin Wasson

The casting is key to the film. Benjamin Walker is a newcomer to me, at least, but he does well in the lead role. He looks the part, playing Lincoln from a young man to the Civil War years, and he comes across with the right amount of gravity and seriousness for the role, never descending into caricature. He rather reminds me of a young Liam Neeson, which is appropriate, since Neeson was long thought to play Lincoln in Spielberg's adaptation. Cooper as Sturgess is a good choice. He's a fine actor, playing a man who holds much about himself back, a vampire who has to come to terms with the right thing to do, and most enjoyably, a vampire who doesn't sparkle. Sewell is one of those great actors who's terrific in pretty much anything he does. You may recognize him from roles in The Illusionist, Hamlet, or Amazing Grace. He plays Adam with relish and menace; he's a memorable villain, and yet as an actor Sewell knows that it's best not to overdo the role. Erin Wasson is also new to me, playing something of a dominatrix vamp. She comes across as marvelously sadistic. Mary Elizabeth Winstead has a bit less of an ideal role, which comes across as understated, but then Mary Todd Lincoln is never an easy role to play, and not terribly sympathetic. I'm always reminded, when I see her being played by an actress, of that old line "So aside from all that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?"

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter is not a serious examination of the President's life, obviously. If you're looking for that, wait a few months. It is, however, an entertaining, engagingly fun movie, and it treats most vampires like the bloodsucking fiends that they are. I enjoyed it thoroughly. One thought I had after it was all over though. I found myself thinking of the late historians Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote, two of the great experts on the Civil War. What would they have thought of an Abraham Lincoln waging war against the undead? I would hope they'd have a sense of humor about it.

Otherwise they might be rolling over in their graves....


  1. Now I have to see the movie! I'm also going to see if Audible has the book.
    I'm a fan of both Cooper and Sewell, so this movie has a lot of pluses for me.

    Great review, as always!

  2. Wonderful review! I am dying to see it!!! I love Lincoln and Gettysburg and the period clothes and of course vampires. This couldn't posssibly be more perfect.

  3. Thank you for this review. If I get to the point where I need something silly and fun to watch I might take a chance on it... some day.

    Great review!

  4. I think Honest Abe would probably roll over in his grave but your review is wonderful.

  5. Been on the fence for this one, William. Definitely think I'll give it a go now. Yes, it's a complete bastardization of Lincoln, but so are most textbooks. :)

  6. I know I like the sparkly variety of vampires, but I'd love to see this movie. And now, your review just makes me want to see it even more.

    Great job!

  7. I wonder if our sixteenth President had a sense of humor....

  8. I haven't read the book or seen the movie, as yet, but there has certainly been a rush on this theme - classics with a current pop culture penchant for vampires, zombies and the like...

  9. Oh Goodness !
    SYFY Channel is promoting this movie lots, I think they backed it ?
    What a hoot and any movie that doesn't have sparkly vampires is good Book or movie for me !

    Great review,

    cheers, parsnip

  10. It sounds fun! I must look out for it... I also fancy the Spielberg film as Daniel Day Lewis is such a wonderful actor.

  11. I watched the first few minutes of The Tonight Show last night and Jay mentioned this movie.
    One of his comments was that this movie was called I can't remember the word, a mixture of fiction and history
    so that the kids wouldn't believe this is true and this was said in his best surfer dude voice.
    Perfect !

    cheers, parsnip

  12. I whole-hardheartedly agree! I loved the movie! So many people were bashing it, but they need to get a sense of humor (and adventure). It's fun. I wanted to see Honest Abe take down some fiendish bloodsuckers. This film delivers.

  13. Thanks for the review, William. I was wondering about this film!

  14. @Norma: I think Honest Abe did have one!

    @Lorelai, and Christina: thanks!

    @Eve: he probably would!

    @EJ: it's well worth it!

    @Beth: Abe needs to put the axe in the entire Cullen clan.

  15. @Tracy: this is one of the good ones! I'm not usually a fan of the genre, but the book and movie delighted me.

    @Parsnip: the sparkly ones are a pestilence!

    @Barbara: I'm really looking forward to that film. Day-Lewis is the best actor around today.

    @DC: it really does!

    @Talli: check it out! It's very fun!

  16. I definitely want to see this. I've heard it's really graphic though. Good to know ahead of time. Not an after dinner movie. ;)

  17. Darn. Daniel Day Lewis as the ugly Abe Lincoln? And he used to be so incredibly hot!

  18. @Kelly: definitely not on a full stomach!

    @Cheryl: he's one of my favourite actors. I'm looking forward to it.


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