Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Cast: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Dominic Cooper, Alan Tudyk, Rufus Sewell, Jimmi Simpson, Robin McLeavy
RunTime: 1 hr 45 mins
Rating: NC16 (Violence)
Released By: 20th Century Fox
Opening Day: 5 July 2012
Synopsis: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter explores the secret life of one of the U.S.’s greatest presidents, and the untold story that shaped that country. Visionary filmmakers Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov (director of Wanted) bring a fresh and visceral voice to the bloodthirsty lore of the vampire, imagining Lincoln as history's greatest hunter of the undead.
There are countless of vampire films these days, and the numbers churning out don't seem to be letting up, maximizing releases on the 3D format to rake in extra revenue at the box office. Amongst the noisy blockbusters, in Singapore at least, comes Abraham Lincoln sandwiched between the friendly neighbourhood wall crawler and the dark knight. The verdict? It's a surprisingly entertaining action adventure that blends history and fantasy, putting historical characters in landscapes and events that perhaps could have happened if imagination turned into reality. This is nothing new of course, but this film had the gall to put a prominent country leader on the pedestal, and turning him into something else altogether.
With Tim Burton and Russian visionary director Timur Bekmambetov combining forces, I suppose only these two can provide an added dimension to the 16th President of the United States, putting Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) into a fictional space and in almost superhero fashion with his nocturnal lifestyle comparable to that of Batman's, hunting his adversaries, in this case being Vampires, in the night. It's a time where humanity is threatened with the rising force of Vampires, led by Adam (Rufus Sewell), who have crossed from Europe into the New World to try and expand their dominion at the right opportunity. And Abe Lincoln, who lost his parents under the hands of one such vampire (Marton Csokas), shades of the Dark Knight is unmistakably paid homage to with his vow of vengeance, which gets transformed by mentor Henry (Dominic West) into a quest for the greater good, with rules attached that denies Abe of relationships given the dangerous nature of his lifelong mission. But such rules are to be broken when Abe falls in love with Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and provides for an added element of danger each time he goes out wielding that giant axe.
While the narrative is focused on the life and times of the central titular character, from his childhood days right up until sealing his legacy with historical milestones such as the Battle of Gettysburg, which had taken on a more mythical approach of Man versus Monster, what made the film tick also rests on its supporting characters. There's Dominic West as mentioned playing the quintessential mentor role in training Abe in the ways of the Vampire, coupled with the requisite montage training sequences as well as throwing in a known twist, and Anthony Mackie as William Johnson his childhood friend, there to punctuate a time when racisim was steep in a country still bogged down with slavery in the South. And while Mary Elizabeth Winstead's role as Mary Todd aka Mrs Abraham Lincoln is pretty brief, confined to being the love interest, she too does have scenes as the First Lady with a lot of spunk, as does how Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson) had transformed from Abe's early employer, to trusted confidante.
Benamin Walker may not be a household name now, being the unknown who gets to step into a big, historical role, but with leading roles like these and that uncanny resemblance to Abe when made up, perhaps this could serve as his calling card. I may be alone here, but there's some resemblance with his build to Liam Neeson, and his youthful Abe Lincoln playing something that Neeson would have played, albeit with a little bit less experience. And when he ages with the help of prosthetics, Walker does resemble like the atypical image that comes to mind when we think of that American president. Rufus Sewell on the other hand didn't offer much to be a menace, neither hamming it up nor playing it too serious, and if there's a weak point in the film, it'll have to boil down to a lack of a powerful antagonist for Abe Lincoln to grapple against.
Timur gets to return to form with the strong visual sense so powerfully created for his Night/Daywatch series, with art and production design sparing no effort in re-creating old America, coupled with the judicious use of CG to achieve that as well, in particular the landscapes and action sequences. And when Abe fights with his weapon of choice, the blood, gore and dismemberment on screen earned this film its rating here, although beautiful to gawk at with detailed fighting styles played out in slow motion. And I'm glad to say that this film, even though post-produced into 3D, was well worth its higher ticket price in the format, because of deliberate and purposeful designed sequences that shows incredible depth of field, and knowing how to accentuate horror and thrills by having the right things jump toward you from the screen. It's a defnite roller coster ride down right, with the 3D properly utilized and designed, rather than haphazardly slapped together in sloppy fashion just to earn a few quick bucks. There's a labour of love involved, and it shows.
Based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, I guess it's only in America that an historical figure can get to be portrayed in a drastically fictional sense, and to get away with it without any estate suing it for damages. And what more, to have a Russian being at the helm to direct this as well. Try doing that in Singapore and see what you'd probably get, with the film unlikely to have made it off the starting blocks. This film may not have all the ingredients to be an instant epic nor classic, but it knows its limitations and didn't pass itself off as something more than an action adventure, fantasy ride. Recommended!
(An American president like you've never seen him before, axe-wielding and all)
Review by Stefan Shih