Presumably, a lot of eyes were rolled when this film was released onto the unsuspecting public. Taking a well-known historical figure and placing him in a film with some kind of contemporary twist has never, ever ended well for anyone (take Churchill, The Hollywood Years).
For the first half hour or so of this film, I felt it was destined for the same path. Dialogue was wonky, pace was uneven, and tonally it felt bizarre, leaping from a more traditional Lincoln biopic to gory vampire mash-up at the turn of an axe. But, after one particularly impressive bloodbath in a mansion, and when Lincoln actually became President something flipped over. I started to enjoy it, the characters seemed more likable, and by the end, I came out amazed at how entertaining I’d found it.
I think this stems from the fact that, actually, the film is surprisingly respectful of the life and events of the Lincoln himself (Benjamin Walker). I discovered before I went in that the film was (sans vampires, obviously,) 100% accurate, and it showed. I genuinely felt that within the confines of the concept, this was dutiful, getting numerous things right. This leads me to what I think is the right way to watch this film; as an interpretation of his life. When you take the vampires out, this is simply a biopic of his life, and I think once you allow yourself to view this as a ‘biopic with vampires’, then you can allow yourself to enjoy it.
Of course, it isn’t perfect, just pleasantly surprising when held against the expectations of a film with a title Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. But it is worth noting that the film is surprisingly well shot. It is human, and actually focuses on the relationships between the characters, making the scenes of carnage with the vampires all the more engaging (despite being relatively few and far between).
The editing has a tendency to be a bit wonky, especially early on, and the tone is, as said, rather all over the place. And the dialogue seems to be comprised of ‘tiny parables’ (I’m not joking. One day, someone will make a YouTube video of the millions of parables contained in there. One suspects it became the subject of a drinking game for writer Seth Grahame-Smith). But on the whole, these are minor things.
The performances above all are this film’s saving grace; they give it a form of humanity that allows you to enjoy it with a relatively clean conscience. Dominic Cooper shines once more as the hunter with a tarnished soul, Henry Sturgess. Benjamin Walker is excellent as the eponymous Lincoln, and he comes across as convincing. What is most telling is in the scenes where there aren’t any vampires; we carry on watching him regardless, which is the sign of a good character. And, finally, Rufus Sewell does a great job of munching the scenery with his evil vampire leader, Adam.
This is a film of two halves; on one side, you’ve got an average Lincoln biopic (fairly standard TV movie of the week stuff, watchable), and on the other, a flawed vampire movie (there are a number of very basic vampire laws that get trashed here, and I would actually argue that the vamps themselves bear more resemblance to the running demonic rage monsters from 28 Days Later, but that’s open to debate).
Yet both these halves merge together better than they should, and segue wonderfully to create a film that, in truth, doesn’t deserve the silly title that it has. This is an interpretation of his life (albeit a silly one) but that’s the whole point of interpretations; they can be as silly as they want, as long as there is justification. In here, I would argue that there is plenty of justification.
[imdblt]Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter[/imdblt]