Starring: Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell
Directed by: Timur
According to this flight of fancy, our 16th president – “Honest Abe” – wasn’t exactly forthcoming about his background. Deeply buried in his résumé and an essential part of his raison d’être is a pretty impressive career as a hunter and killer of vampires.Once you get past the silly premise as put forth in Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2010 bestselling novel, you can enjoy the ingenious way it all comes together in Timur Bekmambetov’s highly stylized production. Forget the 3-D; it’s just a tacked on gimmick in a movie chock-full of mind-blowing special effects, mostly there to give you the urge to wipe away the dark, viscous blood spatters Lincoln flings from his silver-tipped ax as he slaughters hordes of vampires. It flies off the screen in relentless streams the color and thickness of Steen’s Syrup.
It’s better just to go with the whole idea and not ask yourself too many questions as young Abe (Benjamin Walker) grows into manhood and is consumed with revenge after losing a loved one to a blood sucking slave trader (Martin Csokas). In this alternate view of history, the Civil War is fueled in part by Southern vampires who feast on the unfortunate souls. Led by Adam (Rufus Sewell), this faction becomes the enemy of Abe and his vampire hunters: Henry (Dominic Cooper) who becomes a mentor to Abe in the ways of killing vampires; Will (Anthony Mackie) his lifelong friend; and Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson), who was a real associate of Lincoln.
The story covers the Springfield days as Lincoln studies the law and goes into politics. There he meets his wife, Mary (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and rival Stephen Douglas (Alan Tudyck). But while these known facts play out, we are also led to believe he was hunting down vampires, which seem to be everywhere.
With sepia-toned photography from Caleb Dechanel (yep, Zooey’s dad), the entire piece has an eerie, Old World quality.
Bekmambetov’s strength is in the staging of several memorable action sequences including an intense stampede with Abe chasing his nemesis over the backs of horses, and a battle on a runaway train heading for a burned-out bridge. He makes liberal use of the “Matrix”–style slo-mo, an overused bit, but it nicely shows off Abe’s wicked blade skills.
Walker, a Julliard graduate, is better known as a Broadway actor who received rave reviews recently as lead in the musical “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson.” It must be just coincidence that in his first feature film he stars as another president. Hidden beneath prosthetic ears and a nose that mimic Lincoln’s inimitable features, it’s hard to see that Walker is a handsome fellow.His choice to play Abe as a timid participant in the wacky business of wiping out the vampire population is questionable and his hesitancy to fully embrace the part telegraphs that maybe he wasn’t buying any of this, either. For that matter, judging by the limited publicity campaign, it seems there was not a lot of faith in this venture as a whole.
An untested actor and an odd storyline make for one big gamble that might not pay off except with vampire fans. However, I will give credit for the clever way the story molds historical accuracy to fit its purposes. The “railroad” reference is a nice touch.The distinctive visual style and the imaginative staging of the action pieces make this a far more interesting movie than it probably deserves to be. A second feature is on its way, too, based on Grahame-Smith’s other best seller, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” Oh, goody. Jane Austen.