Review: 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' could have been much more

Friday, 13 July 2012 - 12:00pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
The film doesn’t manage to be entirely serious, delightfully ludicrous or downright scary, but it is fairly action-packed and brilliantly shot .

Film: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Cast:  Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Marton Csokas
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Rating: ***
 
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is adapted from the 2010 book of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith, who wrote the screenplay. The film follows Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) from childhood to his ascent to an embattled presidency, throwing light — as the title promises-upon his hidden career as a hunter of supernatural blood-sucking beings. With a humble beginning as the son of a plantation worker, a young Lincoln loses his mother due to cruel slave owner Jack Barts (Marton Csokas).  After a badly-conceived revenge scheme goes horribly wrong, Lincoln learns, not only do vampires exist but there are some like Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), his mentor, who know how to destroy them. 
 
While the title comes as fair warning to some, the film can’t be faulted for taking itself more seriously than one would expect. There are moments that make you wish the actors received Oscars for their straight-faced conviction but apart for the undead-hunting bits, there are no wink-wink moments or B-movie-channeling to be found at all. But it would be wishful thinking on the part of the review to expect Bekmambetov to have played it straight with the historic retelling and weighing the dramatic content in relation to the horror and action. In the scenes where Lincoln and his friend Joshua Speed do business in New Orleans, the spooky atmosphere evokes the Anne Rice kind of Southern Gothic horror which is more appealing to this reviewer than the one where Honest Abe gets a horse chucked at him by Barts.
 
Though America’s 16th President is made to wield an axe, the film is all but irreverent to the man and his ideals. The antagonists, the vampires operate at an almost allegorical level. They symbolise an ancient enduring evil that undermines Lincoln’s ideals about freedom and universal brotherhood, thriving not unlike slave drivers on the blood of those deemed unequal. In rare bit of poignant writing in the ‘join-us-we-will-rule-the-world-together’, the leader of the vampires tells a captured Lincoln. Too bad the monsters don’t provide subtle chills, with most of them just popping up and baring their fangs before being duly dismembered.

While Cooper is reliable as ever and Walker grows into his role (and its iconic beard), Mackie as the fictional Lincoln’s childhood friend William Johnson seems too contemporary for the role of the free African-American who was the president’s valet. Winstead as Mary Todd Lincoln puts up a strong performance.
 
Director of photography Caleb Deschanel is the real star of the film with his colour palettes and framing lending the film an air of gorgeousness.
 
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter doesn’t manage to be entirely serious, delightfully ludicrous or downright scary, but it is fairly action-packed and brilliantly shot .




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