Monday, June 25, 2012

"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov, written by Seth Grahame-Smith, starring Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, and Rufus Sewell - Rated R

Not to be all uppity, but you should really just read the book.

It seems a bit ridiculous to complain that a film called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is too dumb and goofy, but somehow it is.  While the film has its moments and could be an enjoyable experience overall, it falls short of being the fun summer movie that it should be.

Most people scoff when they simply hear the title of this film, and for good reason.  Like last year’s Cowboys and Aliens, people are unsure if the film is a joke or not.  Unfortunate titles aside, both films strived to be serious fare despite the crazy premise.  Lincoln doesn’t disappoint just because of its premise, though.  It fails because it doesn’t take itself seriously enough. 

I’ve read the book this film is based upon and I loved it.  (Let’s ignore the hilarity that comes with realizing a movie about one of America’s most beloved presidents killing vampires is based on a book.)  Novelist, and screenwriter for the film, Seth Grahame-Smith created an amusing, surprisingly compelling story but failed to retain the fun in his adaptation. 

The story of both the book and the film is about how Lincoln discovers that vampires live among us when he witnesses his mother being attacked by one.  His life instantly turns into a revenge quest that eventually leads him to see that the entire country is heading towards a war that is not about slavery vs. freedom, but instead about vampires vs. humans.  Lincoln first fights the vampires in individual encounters, but eventually realizes he can do more as a powerful politician. 

It may not need to be stated, but history buffs might want to skip out on this one.  I knew, of course, not to take this film (or the book) very seriously as far as the historical record is concerned, but the disregard for some truth still bothered me.  A good fictional account of history will still include all of the real people; it will just create new reasons for their actions and whatnot.  This film just takes things too far.  For example, Lincoln has only two advisors in this film: a black childhood friend whose parents were stolen into slavery and a shopkeeper who gives him his first job.  He just brings these guys to the White House with him!  There is literally no mention of any of Lincoln’s actual advisors. 

I know, I know, who cares, right?  Wrong.  You can still be goofy and amusing and at least slightly historically accurate.  Once again, the book handled this well.  But enough complaining about the differences between the book and the movie.  I imagine many viewers did not read it, so all of this means nothing to them.  This doesn’t mean that everyone who didn’t read the book will love it, though.

The key word in the title of this film is “Hunter.”  Vampires are so common in TV and film these days that it’s nothing special to see them pop up.  But Lincoln is meant to be a hunter in this film.  For the most part, it is handled well.  We see Lincoln use his axe since he worked as a rail splitter and there’s a totally decent montage showing him learn all of his hunting skills.  And when Lincoln does throw down with vampires, it’s usually pretty entertaining with some interesting action and gruesome kills.  But he doesn’t really hunt anything.  Lincoln’s handler sends him a name and the next scene has Lincoln literally showing up at the target’s door and almost blindly attacking. 

I understand why the film is like this.  They wanted to give the audience as much blood as quickly as possible.  But the film would have been much more suspenseful had the kill list been shortened and Lincoln spent more time actually studying his targets.  Instead, Lincoln just jumps in headfirst almost always messing up and ends up coming out on top thanks to sheer luck. 

The action almost makes up for Lincoln’s stupidity.  Director Timur Bekmambetov does have a flair for stylized, crazy action.  He doesn’t do anything groundbreaking here (check out Night Watch or Day Watch if you want to see how crazy he can get), but it’s still better than plain action.  Although he does stretch a bit too far into the crazy with two sequences: a stampede and a train sequence.  I don’t want to go into spoilers, but those two parts had me literally laughing and shaking my head.  The ridiculousness can be enjoyable, though.  It was too much for me, but it might be awesome for another viewer. 

The acting makes the film enjoyable, as well.  Benjamin Walker is fine as Lincoln and really conveys an honest righteousness in the character.  Dominic Cooper is interesting as Henry, Lincoln’s handler, although he doesn’t look like he belongs to the time period at all.  Anthony Mackie is okay, but needed more to do as Lincoln’s friend, Will.  It was just amusing to see Jimmi Simpson in the film as Speed because he is best known for playing a McPoyle in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”  Mary Elizabeth Winstead is kind of plain in the shoehorned-in role of Mary Todd.  Alan Tudyk is great as Stephen Douglas, though the role is too short.  Martin Csokas and Rufus Sewell are the actors who make the film enjoyable, though, as the two villains of the film.  Every scene featuring these two actors has a bit more life.

Overall, I lean more towards the negative side for this one.  I think the best thing I’ve told people so far is that, “Eh…it’s okay.”  But the more I think of it, the less I like this film.  For me, it all comes back to the book.  Since the author also wrote the screenplay, I cannot forgive the film for its massive departure from the much better novel.  So if you’ve read the book, you may want to avoid this one.  If you haven’t read it, you might find some enjoyment here.  Unfortunately, though, all the people who scoff when they hear the title of this film are right: it is just too stupid.
Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

I don't want to keep complaining about the adaptation, but I have to mention how disappointed I was that Edgar Allan Poe didn't make the cut.  His inclusion was so cool in the book and it included one of those fact tie-ins I was complaining about above.  It explains why Poe said, "Reynolds," before he died.  That's what historical fiction can be good for.

Lincoln can hop from horse to horse in the middle of a stampede?  What the hell?

Henry would look more at home on "American Idol" or something.  I know he's a vampire so he should look different, but shouldn't he try to fit in?  He is obviously different from everyone else.  Speaking of which, how did Lincoln not pick up on the fact that Henry was a vampire?  That was one of the worst attempts at a twist that I've ever seen.  And if it wasn't meant to be a twist, then why have Lincoln be shocked by it?

I could go on, but I'd rather go back and read the book again.


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