Saturday, July 7, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter - Tweaking History

 Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States of America. Before he became one, he suffered a lot of deaths: his grandfather was killed by Indians and his mother died of "milk sickness" (a disease entity that killed hundreds during those days, and involved ingestion of milk with tremetol, leading to trembling, vomiting, abdominal pain, and death). The alleged truth behind the latter is a little more cantankerous: she was killed by a vampire named Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), while 9 year old Abe was looking on. Since then, he has vowed retribution. Then he meets Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) who says he could mentor on the effective ways of annihilating a fanged creature - but only if Abe follows what he tells him to do. He then starts a new life in Massachusetts where he becomes a store keeper by day; vampire hunter by night.

One day, he falls in love with a customer Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). While she isn't aware of Abe's extra curricular activities, she suspects there's more to her beau's nocturnal activities. But didn't his mentor Henry warn him against any relations, family or lover? Moreover, Abe attains considerable political clout. Public service seems like a vocation.

Will his association with Mary affect his predator-hunting ways? Why is the Confederate losing so much men at the frontier during the Civil War?

Mashing up history and over-the-top fiction is a choleric proposition because one is bound to cross boundaries that a lot of people are uncomfortable dealing with. Besides, tweaking a real person's biography only works in well postulated (and superbly written) situations. Sadly, director Timur Bekmambetov (Russian-Kazakh director of the superb "Night Watch" and "Day Watch") isn't a seamless story teller. Though masterful where fluid action is concerned, Bekmambetov's narrative is too implausible to be truly enjoyed. So the South used to be teeming with blood suckers? Where have they gone? Why were they selective with their catch (the population of negroes were sacrificed)? What's with the use of "silvers" in their fight against vampires - the film employs biblical references, i.e. the "silvers" paid to Judas to betray Jesus, thus has since become the symbol of the cursed. However, a mere "symbol" doesn't necessarily become a monster's Achilles heel, does it? Isn't Bekmambetov a little confused with this detail? Too much of "Twilight" sure discombobulates people, debah? Suddenly, vampires easily succumb to silvers? Not to sunlight? Nor crucifixes? Not to heart impalements or holy water? Oh how these creatures have evolved in a matter of three years!

Benjamin Walker is perfectly cast as the young Abraham, although it is jarring how this baby-face eventually turns into the Abe Lincoln that we know - heavily bearded and stern faced. To be honest, I didn't know who Walker was, except that he's Meryl Streep's son-in-law (husband of Mammie Gummer, Streep's daughter), but he should make mom Meryl proud  for his emotive skills. Walker is charming and intuitive; dashing and imposing (how can he not be, he stands 6'3"). Besides, it's always a tall order depicting a popular historical figure. Remember Edgar Allan Poe? Or J. Edgar Hoover?

As the film's latter third unravels into a slambang actioner - with axes flying and floating around like a willful boomerang, it soon becomes clear that the film is dictated, not by narrative innovations or brilliance, but by this Hollywood sickness, i.e. blockbuster mentality. This makes the flick a little "too commercial" - and a lot more illogical. That isn't good.  

Benjamin Walker plays Abraham Lincoln

Benjamin Walker

Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Mary Todd who eventually became Mrs. Lincoln.

Dominic Cooper is Henry, Abe's mentor.

Marton Csokas

Rufus Sewell is Adam, vampire head honcho.


Armando dela Cruz said...

Nice review Cathy! In my opinion, the movie was passably put together UNTIL the third act (Abraham gets bearded). Here's my thought: it was too seriously toned that contradicts it's astoundingly absurd premise (which many people thought was cool by the way). It wasn't win-win, but was an enjoyable if not taken too seriously, unlike what the movie did for itself. :)

Cathy Pena said...

Brilliant idea but the execution falters. It's slambang entertainment, that's for sure. :)

Jason Paul Laxamana said...

i havent watched it yet but some thoughts:

"Why were they selective with their catch (the population of negroes were sacrificed)?" >>> maybe a reference to Ku Klux Klan?

"What's with the use of "silvers" in their fight against vampires" >>> isn't silver known in folk/pop culture as the weakness of the undead?

Cathy Pena said...

@ Jason:

Re: KKK, it's possible because one of Lincoln's legacy was the freeing of slaves in an era where slaves were like owning a car, an iPhone or a laptop.

Re: silvers. I honestly don't know about silvers and the undead. I know about werewolves and silvers though, but vampires?

Anyway, there is fun to be had in the movie. I just had to point out its weakness. :)