On the surface, a film titled Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter that portrays Honest Abe as an ass kicker adept at dispatching blood sucking monsters sounds more then a bit absurd. It easily could have fallen into the trap of getting too fantastical, but the film, based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, wisely goes in a bold direction.
Director Timur Bekmambetov takes the absurd premise incredibly serious, directing a film where the idea that vampires actually exist isn’t treated with derision. Author Grahame-Smith, adapting his own novel for the screen, intersperses enough biographical details such as Abe’s mother dying when he was young and his working as a store clerk while studying for law exams, to add a sense of realism and believability to the film’s concept.
Even if the film’s director and writer can provide the framework for Abe as a hunter of blood suckers to be taken seriously, it still could’ve fallen apart with some bad acting. Thankfully this doesn’t happen with this cast. Benjamin Walker’s portrayal of Abe Lincoln is very well done and treats it with the sense of gravitas necessary to make the film work. This is even more true when he grows the beard later in life that we so often associate with the historical Lincoln and the costs of the Civil War become heavier for him. Another great example is how Walker handles Lincoln’s first vampire hunt. He conveys the perfect mix of nervousness and rashness that accompany the act.
Walker isn’t the only good performance on this cast. Henry Sturges, who trains Abe in the arts of vampire destroying, is played quite well by Dominic Cooper, who brings a sort of morose gloom to the role. Rufus Sewell also turns in a great performance as Lincoln’s foil, the vampire leader Adam, who doesn’t go over the top like some movie villains. Despite those performances there are some that seem to be just there to advance the plot. Lincoln’s friends Will and Joshua don’t really do much to make themselves stand out and Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays a passable Mary Todd, Lincoln’s wife.
The final piece that makes this film worth the price of admission are the regular inclusions of action and CGI. The fights are fast-paced and frenetic with heavy doses of slow-down/speed-up changeups at particularly gruesome moments. The CGI does get particularly excessive during one fight scene amid a stampede of horses, but for the most part keeps your eyes glued to the screen.
While it does have its flaws, at its core Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a very enjoyable film that mixes historical fact with the right amount of storytelling and action and some particularly good acting.