Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Rufus Sewell.
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
Runtime: 105 mins. Reviewed in Aug 2012
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Strong bloody violence

Well, the title is certainly provocative. It may mean that serious moviegoers (and historians and history aficionados) may be crossing it off their list of must-see films. That would leave only the action and graphic novel fans (which could, of course, include some historians) and the curious. This review comes from a curious historian.

If someone is going to make a film with this title and with this imagination, it might as well be done like this. I am not sure whether I should be writing this – but I enjoyed it, especially the playing with history (somewhat like Anonymous with Shakespeare’s plays and the Duke of Oxford) which in no way undermines the reputation of Lincoln. For those concerned about Lincoln and history, Steven Spielberg’s forthcoming portrait with Daniel Day Lewis will set the record straight.

So, what is happening here? Graphic novelist, Z, has adapted his story for the screen. And the director is the flamboyant Temur Bekhmatov (the Russian films Day… and the American actioner, Wanted). Supported by designers, costumers and seemingly legions of special effects experts, he offers a colourful film, playing with vampire myths and inserting them into Lincoln’s life as well as the waging of the Civil War.

Apparently, when Lincoln was a boy, a savage plantation owner (Marton Cokas) is confronted by Lincoln’s father when his wife is attacked and killed. The boy had been defending his black friend, William. Lincoln is bent on revenge until he meets a vampire hunter, Henry (Dominic Cooper), is instructed in confronting evil as well as in fight and weaponry techniques plus a philosophy of ridding the world of evil instead of being Abe works in a store, is dragged to meet Mary Todd whom he eventually marries.

He begins to study law, is persuaded to become political, especially after he meet Wiiliam (Anthony Mackie) again and, especially when he is tricked into travelling to New Orleans to a vampire coven to rescue the abducted William and becomes aware of slavery first hand. The coven is presided over by the arch villain, Adam (Rufus Sewell). Lincoln becomes the advocate of freedom for slaves, especially when he is elected to the congress and, of course, when he becomes president.

At these stages, the vampire hunting becomes less, the social, poiitical and freedom issues come to the fore (which could make the action fans who may not be on the history wavelength rather fidgety).

The author works the vampires into the Civil War scenarios. Adam wants to win the war so that American will become a free vampire country. But… with some twists and inventiveness and a huge set piece on a train with a vampire attack as well as a bridge set alight (quite spectacularly) and the train on the verge of plunging off the bridge.

Obviously, as Abe speaks the Gettysburg address, he has more in mind here than freedom from slavery – a realization of what might have been.

While Benjamin Walker (looking like a younger Liam Neeson) and the cast play it straight, the vampire cast, especially Rufus Sewell, have tongues in cheek. This invites us to take it all seriously even when we know it is all made up and far-fetched. It could set precedents for heroics of other presidents. ‘Teddy Rooseveldt in Cuba, Voodoo Pursuit’?

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