A History Lesson With An Edge
RATED: ★ ★ ★ buckets | WORTH: Matinee or DVD
Rated: R Violence throughout and brief sexuality.
Release Date: June 22, 2012
Runtime: 1 hour 45 minutes
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Writers: Seth Grahame-Smith
Cast: Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell, Dominic Cooper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anthony Mackie
SYNOPSIS: Abraham Lincoln, the man who would become the sixteenth President of the United States, lives aware that vampires roam the United States. When it becomes clear that the vampires look to take over the nation, Lincoln makes it his mission to eliminate them.
REVIEW: Timur Bekmambetov, the man who brought the graphic novel Wanted to live action and the cult acclaimed Night Watch and Day Watch to the big screen, returns to bring another novel to life. This time, Bekmambetov delves into period territory with the faux historical action drama novelized and written for the screen by "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" writer Seth Grahame-Smith. As a young boy Abraham Lincoln witnesses his mother being attacked by a merchant named Jack Barts (Marton Csokas, The Debt). This attack was different though. Jack Barts was a vampire. Abraham’s mother died from her wounds, but Abraham’s father made him promise not to do anything foolish in an act of vengeance. Years later, when is father passes away, an adult Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker, The War Boy) does go looking to kill the man that killed his mother. Abraham botches the attempted assassination and is almost killed by the vampire, saved by a stranger named Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper, The Devil's Double). Taking Abe under his tutelage he trains him in the arts of destroying vampires, making him vow not to go after Jack Barts again and, instead, follow his direction and kill the bloodsuckers that he advises. Henry tells Abraham that he would have to live a life of solitude, not making friends or looking romance. Abraham agrees and moves to Springfield to follow his studies of the law and dispatch vampires through letters sent to him by Sturgess. In Springfield, Abraham meets and works for Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson, Date Night), as well as being introduced to the lovely young Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, The Thing - 2011). Trying to balance a productive life by day and an assassin’s work at night, Abraham fells his ax across the necks of the nocturnal fanged menaces just as he falls in love with Mary. His nighttime activities raises the attentions of the vampire ‘father’ Adam (Rufus Sewell, The Tourist) and Adam’s enforcer Vadoma (Erin Wasson, Somewhere). Adam, in his centuries of existence, looks to raise his own nation of vampires, deeply rooted in what would become the Confederate South. Abraham eventually decides to hang up his top hat, long coat, and axe in pursuit of Mary and a normal life in politics, but is pulled into service again while President of the United States when the Confederate Nation under the invisible hand of Adam and his cohorts rise up in Civil War against the Union North under the guise of the issue of slavery.
Seth Graham-Smith did something to 19th-century literature that Jane Austin never could. He turned a novel first published in 1813 centering on a female protagonist dealing with the issues manners, upbringing, morality, education, and marriage in the landed gentry of early 19th-century England into a book that men would read. All he did was add the secret ingredient - zombies! As a literary ash-up follow-up, Grahame-Smith looked a few decades into the turbulent strife of a young America's Civil War and the origin of one of our nation's greatest presidents. Little did we realize when we were in middle school's social studies class that the rich history of The United States of America included bloodsucking nocturnes known more commonly as vampires.
Timur Bekmambetov brings to screen a period action drama, filled with slick stylized slow-mo action fighting sequences and a wisp of actual historical references and situations. With every detailed spin and swing of Abraham’s ax, a vampire’s head would be separated from its body with a spraying stream of thick black blood. And of course, we all remember that strife that filled and divided the nation under the banner of a man’s freedoms. What we didn’t know is that the hidden vampire nation quietly running the plantation South used slavery to satiate their thirst. The film culminates on and around the bloody battlefields of Gettysburg, mixing the Confederate and vampire uprising against the will and strategy of Lincoln and his trusted advisors, including Speed, Sturgess, and his childhood friend Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie, Real Steel).
The plot is a little thin at times, relying heavily on the CGI-filled sequences of ax swinging, disappearing and reappearing charging razor-sharp fang-filled monsters. Some of the action sequences are so complex that the eye can barely register the action that is taking place. Most notable are the horse stampede fight between Jack Barts and Lincoln and the fiery train trestle battle miles out from Gettysburg. The 3D is used to great effect, making the audience gasp and duck when a round musket ball hurls directly at them. Otherwise, Timur goes to great lengths to deepen the scenes with lingering dust or glowing ash.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a film to be enjoyed for what it is – a popcorn eating delight. From beautifully crafted scenic locales, to CGI effects ranging from decent to eye-popping, to an accomplished cast led by Walker, Cooper, Winstead, and Sewell, Bekmambetov puts on screen a film entertaining enough to live up to the film’s name. The film may be a little too off-beat for some, but be warned, if ALVH does well, the South may rise again!
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