Synopsis: Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, discovers vampires are planning to take over the United States. He makes it his mission to eliminate them.
Stars: Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell, Erin Wasson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anthony Mackie, Jimmi Simpson, Dominic Cooper
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Running Length: 105 minutes
Random Crew Highlight: Confederate Vampire Soldier ~ Andrew Niemann
TMMM Score: (3.5/10)
Review: When you buy your ticket for a movie called Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter you should already be well aware that this won’t be the Abe Lincoln story you learned about in History 101. The film has been criticized by critics for not being “believable” and lampooning an important president in US History. I would point all of these naysayers back to the title and just shrug my shoulders. What people should be crying foul on is that Seth Grahame-Smith’s interestingly clever novel of the same name has been rewritten by Hollywood and Grahame-Smith himself…creating a film that isn’t very interesting or clever. Even the one nice action sequence and the performance of Walker in the title role can’t save the film from being drained of all humor and life.
The novel was written and released soon after the enormous success of Grahame-Smith’s genre blending Pride and Prejudice and Zombies which is also getting the Hollywood treatment soon. It was a sly tome that posited that Abe Lincoln became a hunter of vampires after his mother was tragically killed by a debt-collecting creature of the night. Written in mostly diary form (like the seminal vampire novel, Dracula) the source material for the film wove historical fact with literary fiction, insinuating that vampires were behind slavery and fought en mass in the Civil War to keep the slave trade going and their meals plentiful. All the while, Abe slays vamps while ascending the political ladder…eventually coming out of retirement for one last mission. The book had an intriguing prologue that admittedly was never resolved but a nice ending that bridged a gap between the speeches of two important historical figures.
The screenplay jettisons much of the nice historical ties and one has to wonder what possessed Grahame-Smith to do it. Who knows if it was Hollywood pressure or rewrites he wasn’t a part of but this movie just can’t be called an adaptation of his novel. It can’t. It could only lay claim to the concept because everything else is so different. Grahame-Smith even created a villain (Sewell) and villainess (Wasson) that never showed up on the page. Now, what could have been a dark comedy has been turned into a run of the mill vampire tale with the stock villains stock intentions (Vampires want to take over the world!) and a greatly diminished in power leading character.
What gives the film some reprieve is Walker’s take on Honest Abe. Looking uncannily like a young Liam Neeson (who he played a younger version of in Kinsey and who, interestingly enough, was long-attached to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln before being replaced by Daniel Day-Lewis) Walker cuts a nice figure as the 16th President of the United States both as a boy and as the political leader he became. Credit should also be given to the make-up department who successfully transform the 30 year old into the elder Lincoln. Walker may have to do some penance for the movie overall but he’s a nice light in a dark forest…I am so curious what his mother-in-law Meryl Streep thought of it! It also doesn’t help that the screenplay removes much of Lincoln’s arc as he battles vampires by night and his personal struggles by day. Crucial characters have been excised and a love interest forgotten probably due to time constraints – that’s too bad because it would have been more interesting than what is there now.
The supporting players here are fairly weak with not a one of them feeling like they were the first choice for the role. Winstead as Mary Todd Lincoln has become a better actress over the years and Grahame-Smith made a wise choice by beefing up her role for the movie. Mackie and Simpson are two of the least impactful “best friends” in recent memory and Simpson in particular looks ridiculously out of place amongst the rest of the cast. Though one-note, Sewell has the look of a nice bad guy and Cooper overacts as another vampire that helps Abe out.
Grahame-Smith has added several wrinkles not present in the book that have varying degrees of success. As I mentioned before, increasing the duties of Mary helped fill in some gaps but leaving out key historical elements don’t make much sense. It’s insinuated that once Lincoln’s parents die he has no one in the world which we know isn’t true. And no mention is made of the Lincoln’s other children after the focus is placed on just one. A twist to the vampire rules about killing each other is introduced that I found interesting…also calling the head vampire Adam who lives in Eden Plantation captures the kind of humor the book had.
Another drawback is the tone of the movie. No one is having any kind of fun whatsoever and that becomes a serious drag for the audience. It’s played so deadly serious that a kind of funk wafts off the screen to our eyes and ears that we, too, don’t want to give ourselves over to it. Would all involved have been willing to place their tongue firmly in their cheeks and played up the concept a bit more I think the film would have really taken off. The most incredible line of the movie comes near the end when Mary actually says to a running late Abe “Come on, Abraham…we’ll be late for the theater!”…and one can almost hear the “dum dum DUM” that plays silently after that phrase.
Director Bekmambetov has no shortage of visual creativity but, unlike his superior Wanted, the movie feels like a “best of” display of the director skill rather than breaking any new ground. The 3D filming technique is used to decent effect but it’s the 3D style of having things fly at you that is favored, rather than movies like Prometheus where the technique was used to give the images more depth and life.
Maybe it’s because I had recently closed the book on which this was based that I had so many problems with the changes. I realize that every move to the screen will come with some sacrifice but the changes here felt like a wholesale redo of the work. I’m not suggesting the book was a classic by any means or that the concepts presented in it were any more believable…but it’s the way the book was presented that made it easier to digest. Here, the proceedings on screen are not so much presented as thrown at us without any care so it was difficult to appreciate it. If only the team had been willing to have some fun, a better movie would have resulted.
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