Saturday, 28 July 2012
FILM REVIEW: ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER
20th Century Fox Films
Benjamin Walker, who plays the titular character in Timur Bekmambetov's alternate history period-horror film, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, bears an uncanny resemblance to Liam Neeson. In fact, Walker played the younger version of Neeson's Alfred Kinsey in the 2004 film, Kinsey. And just like the Irish actor's ex-CIA operative character in Taken (2008), this Abe Lincoln has a very particular set of skills.
For as the title suggests, this Lincoln, the future 16th president of the United States, is also a vampire hunter; recruited by the mysterious Henry (Dominic Cooper) and trained in the ways of slaying the living dead (although his pupil isn't above improvising when the occasion calls for it).
And Lincoln was a willing recruit. Having watched, as a boy, his mother die as a result of a vampire attack (Aussie actor, Martin Csokas, hamming it up), he's had vengeance in his heart and an axe to grind, quite literally: the wood chopping implement becoming Abe's weapon of choice in vanquishing the vamps, and Henry, as his mentor, providing him with a focus for his anger and a code to live by.
That code includes no personal attachments, but not even a vampire slayer can live by the axe alone. Besides, who could refuse the advances of the pretty and even more intelligent, Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead)?
The courtship of the witty woman by the lanky (but unbeknownst to her) axeman (encouraged by Abe's friend and employer, Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson), and childhood friend and freed slave, Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie)) provides a great deal of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter's charm and humour.
And both of those elements are intermittent if not entirely rare in Seth Grahame-Smith's screenplay. Adapting his own novel, Grahame-Smith (who also penned the Jane Austen spin-off, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) has had to excise a great deal of the historical information, and some of the serious intent, contained in his book.
It's a little jarring when, at about halfway through its brisk 105 minute running time, the film leaps forward some 20-odd years to when Lincoln, who had only just begun to develop an interest in public office, is suddenly the President of a country at war with itself.
That would be the Civil War, fought between the Northern and Southern states, and primarily over the issue of slavery. Thankfully, Grahame-Smith has wisely chosen to keep one of the more clever conceits (after the title, of course) of his novel: that the slave trade among the Southern states was a means of both sating the vampire population whilst also filling their coffers in the hopes of funding their own revolution.
Rufus Sewell and Erin Wasson play an ambitious (i.e. ruthless) pair of vampire siblings intent on creating their own empire in the New World, and bringing down the idealistic Republican president in the process.
Even as it's defying history, logic and, in its super slo-mo action sequences (a trademark of Russian director, Bekmambetov, whose previous Hollywood outing was 2008's Wanted), gravity, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter remains entertaining. Perhaps not bloody good fun, but fun nonetheless.
It's history -- alternative rather than authoritative; if you want facts, wait for Steven Spielbeg's Lincoln later this year -- come to life, albeit in unnecessary if not completely distracting 3D (Caleb Deschanel's sepia-like cinematography not overly darkened by the post-conversion process).