Reviewed by: Taran Gingery
Abraham Lincoln’s real and lasting legacy
REVENGE—In the movie, Abraham Lincoln is consumed with revenge against the person who killed his mother. How do you think the real Abraham Lincoln differed?
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Benjamin Walker … Abraham Lincoln
Dominic Cooper … Henry Sturgess
Anthony Mackie … Will Johnson
Mary Elizabeth Winstead … Mary Todd Lincoln
Rufus Sewell … Adam
Marton Csokas … Jack Barts
Jimmi Simpson … Joshua Speed
Joseph Mawle … Thomas Lincoln
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|Distributor:||Tim Burton Productions, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation|
“President by day. Hunter by night.”
Abraham Lincoln. Lawyer. Statesman. Vampire hunter. President. Leader. Wait a minute… vampire hunter? There’s something that the history books forgot to tell us about. However, this film, based on the best-selling novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, is not revisionist history, but rather a fantastical “alternate” history, if you will. As Lincoln intones in the opening scene: “History prefers legends to men. It prefers nobility to brutality, soaring speeches to wild deeds. History remembers the battle, but forgets the blood. However history remembers me before I was a President, it shall only remember a fraction of the truth.” This story devotes itself to telling us the rest of “the truth.”
Vampires seem to have been around for a long time. It seems they were in America long before European settlers arrived. They were especially prevalent in the South, where many wealthy plantation owners were vampires who used African slaves as a source of food. Abraham Lincoln encountered them early on, when, as a boy, he witnessed the death of his mother at the hands of a particular nasty vampire, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas). Later, as a young adult, Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) swears to avenge his mother and kill Barts.
He falls under the tutelage of the mysterious Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), a vampire hunter himself bent on bringing down one of the most evil vampires in America, Adam (Rufus Sewell), the father of vampire-kind who wants nothing more than to raise up a nation of vampires. He trains young Abe in the ways of vampire hunting, turning him into a ruthless killer. However, he warns him that the desire for vengeance is not strong enough to defeat the vampires. “If vengeance is all you seek, you will never be able to save mankind,” he tells him. “Fight this war with me, not for one man but for the whole world.”
At first, Abraham resists, desiring only revenge. But as his eyes are opened to the plight of the slaves at the hands of the vampires and perhaps encouraged by one Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he comes to realize there are more important things than his own selfish ambitions. He becomes a man driven to destroy the vampires, even if it means a bloody civil war, not for himself, but for his country, for his family, and for the beliefs that his country was founded upon.
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov, who helmed the hyper-violent “Wanted,” “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” pulls no punches. The vampires here are vicious, monstrous killers who tear out the throats of their victims with violent vigor and gore. Lincoln himself wields an ax with dexterity, although, instead of splitting rails, he splits vampire skulls, necks, limbs, etc. Blood splashes across the screen in copious amounts and often in slow motion. Several vampires are graphically beheaded. One is shot through the eye, although he recovers (the bullet wasn’t silver). Another takes a silver pocket-watch to the chest (it will make sense in context). Vampires and humans clash on the battlefields, with graphic explosions, stabbings and shootings aplenty. We see slaves, hanging upside-down, their blood draining into bowls.
There is some foul language, with one F-word, many misuses of God’s name, and one obscene expression. The bare breasts of a vampire victim are briefly seen, and we see Henry and a woman having loud sex in a bathtub, although no explicit nudity is present.
That being said, this violent vampire flick is surprisingly respectful of Abraham Lincoln and the morals and beliefs that he stood for. Indeed, using vampires as sort of a symbol for slavery, the film rightly portrays him as a man who desires to stand against evil and fight for the truth. The thirst for vengeance is shown as a destructive force, while the thirst for justice is the right path. “Truth, not hatred, is the greatest power,” Henry tells Lincoln. The truth, as Lincoln sees it, is that vampires stand for everything Lincoln is against, including oppression, anarchy, and tyranny. Thus, Lincoln finds that he cannot stand by and watch them destroy his country and that he can put aside his own desires to fight for the greater good, both with politics and with his ax.
The usual spiritualism that is involved with vampires (crucifixes, etc.) is absent, and there is a lot of talk about vampires being the result of a curse from God. On the other hand, Lincoln’s faith is portrayed positively. He quotes the Bible (“I must put aside childish things” in reference to deciding to run for president) and is shown praying at his child’s bedside. The Bible is also referenced at the beginning of the film (Genesis 17:5). Snippets of the Gettysburg Address are also heard with references to a “nation under God.”
Visually, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is stylistically rendered. The action scenes, while brutal, are amazing—from a chase through a herd of stampeding horses to a reenactment of the Gettysburg battle with vampires, to the climactic fight on a train crossing a burning bridge. Benjamin Walker makes a decent Lincoln, while Sewell is an excellent villain. However, the screenplay is loaded with clichés, and the story feels very rushed, several times.
In conclusion, this is ultimately an action-packed adventure film that turns Lincoln into an action hero who is as comfortable hacking vampires to bits as he is at giving speeches. It also holds true to the ideals that Lincoln upheld and that ultimately lead him lead the country through the Civil War. Although it plays fast and furious with historical events and people (look for appearances by Lincoln’s political opponent, Stephen Douglas and champion of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman), it also deftly welds fantasy with the truth behind what drove Lincoln to fight. It is not always an even film, with pacing and storytelling issues, and it is certainly always a violent film, usually graphically so, but with the above strong cautions in mind, mature viewers who are not adverse to vampire flicks will find something to appreciate here.
Violence: Extreme / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Moderate
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.