So, the title tells you just about all you need to know. Knowing the basics, I expected a silly action flick. And it is. The film (and presumably the book, although I haven’t read it) weaves in biographical details about Lincoln into a completely ridiculous tale about vampires.
As a boy, Lincoln’s mother is killed by a ruthless and jealous merchant (who also happen to be a vampire). He vows revenge and gets his chance as an impetuous teenager. Unsuccessful in his vengeance bid, he retreats to study under a more accomplished vampire hunter. After a training montage, he is now ready to smite the undead with his mighty axe.
First, the strong points. The set design and decoration was quite good. From a one room cabin in Indiana to a decrepit mansion in New Orleans to a small dry goods shop in Springfield, Illinois, the production design nailed it. Similarly, the cinematography was very well done. There were plenty of candlelit rooms and moonlit landscapes that must have been difficult to photograph, but they were important for the mood and story.
Now the not-so-stellar points. With few exceptions, the acting was horrendous. Rufus Sewell, who seems incapable of turning in a bad performance, plays a centuries-old vampire who has allied himself with Jefferson Davis and the rebel forces. There the acting accolades end. Anthony Mackie, Abe’s friend Will, Jimmi Simpson, owner of the dry goods store and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Mary Todd, do well enough to not embarrass themselves. The same cannot be said for Dominic Cooper, Marton Csokas, and unfortunately Benjamin Walker. He brought as much personality to the role of Abraham Lincoln as the marble statue in DC. I’ve not seen any of his other films so I have nothing to compare it to, but this cannot be his best work. He is stilted, wooden and awkward. I don’t even know why Erin Wasson was there. Her character, and her portrayal of it, were useless.
The film is completely lacking in subtlety, though that is hardly a surprise. Other “monster” movies like White Zombie and I Walked With A Zombie explore the idea of slavery and colonialism in various kinds, comparing it to being “zombified”. Here, the film explains it numerous times, and any value the idea had is lost.
The action sequences are nothing special. They are strange mix of Jackie Chan kung fu and 300-style blood splatters. The climactic action scene is on a train, but Buster Keaton did more with less, and 90 years ago.
I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece, but I was hoping for a campy, cult favorite. Something that had just enough good about it that it would be one a 24-hour loop on TBS on February 12th, or be the basis for a new drinking game, perhaps. Unfortunately it fell short of that goal. It tried too hard to be a serious movie, rather than embracing the genre it rightfully belongs in. The result is an awkward identity crisis.