It’s always tricky to compare books with the movies they’re based on, but with Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, it’s hard not to. The book, one of the more clever works of recent years, reads more like a historical biography (with apologies to Carl Sandburg) than something closer to The Twilight Saga, its pseudo-kin in subject matter.
Knowing full-well he couldn’t pack everything (or most things, really) from his book into a two hour flick, Grahame-Smith’s adapted screenplay veers off into completely new directions, adds new characters, and condenses what would (should?) have been a Ken Burns-length marathon into a tight little package.
It’s not without its faults, but the movie actually stands up fine on its own. Director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) takes full advantage of every gimmick in today’s movie-making arsenal –from 3D blood splatters to Matrix-style slo-mo violence– to present a movie that’s as silly as the original premise.
But that’s okay. We’re talking about Abraham Lincoln. As a vampire hunter.
After watching a vampire kill his mom when he was just nine years old, Lincoln (as Grahame-Smith would have us believe, anyway) realized his true calling. A decade later, after an unsuccessful tussle with the same vampire, Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) meets Henry (Dominic Cooper), who agrees to train the future President in the ways of vampire-destroying.
Unable to heed Henry’s advice to stay unconnected (“no family, no friends”), Lincoln meets and falls in love with Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and the rest (well… if you squint a little and overlook the whole ‘vampire’ thing) is history.
Relative newcomer Walker, who played another fellow ‘fractured fairy tale’ President in Broadway’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, is perfectly cast here as honest Abe. Tall, lanky, and reserved (at least until he wields the silver-bladed axe), he projects a perfect mix of tongue-in-cheek and gravitas.
Likewise, Winstead does a fine job as the in-the-dark companion to the country’s leading dispatcher of the undead, and Anthony Mackie and Jimmi Simpson also shine in supporting roles as Lincoln’s buddies. It’s Rufus Sewell, though, who steals the show most often as the so-evil-he’s-campy head vampire Adam, a role created for the movie.
Bekmambetov certainly knows how to put on a show, and together with cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, he creates a bizarre world; in one scene you’re marveling at the historical detail of the costumes and set design; in the next, a scary-mouthed, CGI monster is leaping out of the screen at you.
Instead of being an adaptation of the book, the film version of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter actually plays better as a companion piece to the novel. As inventive and well-crafted as the novel is, the movie is more of a snazzy, CliffsNotes version mixed with eye candy.
It’s not necessarily bad, it’s just different. But, heck, so is the idea that when Lincoln finished studying by the warm glow of his log cabin’s fireplace, he went off to practice whackin’ bloodsuckers.