Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

Rating: ****
Release Date: 6/22/12
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Music: Henry Jackman
Cast: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Jimmi Simpson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Erin Wasson

The best axe-fu historical mash-up movie ever made, and how much you enjoy this farce depends on how much you appreciate Timur Bekmambetov's particular brand of cinematic insanity. Revisiting his vampire roots ("Night Watch" (2004) ) Bekmambetov is the perfect choice for bringing this larger than life film to the big screen. Based on the novel of the same name, the film explores a secret side of America's sixteenth president, as a hunter seeking vengeance for the death of his mother at the hands of a vampire. Honing his killing skills with an axe, Lincoln joins fellow vampire hunter Henry Sturgess (sly Dominic Cooper) in a futile attempt to slow the advance of vampirism in the United States. He eventually retires the axe to focus on politics and emancipation, until years later when his skills are called upon once again when vampires are recruited by the Confederate Army during the American Civil War.

The only way to handle such ludicrous material is to temper it with deadly seriousness, which is something that director Bekmambetov excels it. The action scenes are deliriously outrageous, but highly kinetic and full of visual splendor. A strong and sweeping musical score complements the intensity of the action scenes quite nicely, and the fight choreography and editing are surprisingly good. Abe uses his axe in unexpectedly fabulous ways, and the fight scenes are chock full of inventive, and bloody surprises. Benjamin Walker makes an excellent and compelling Lincoln, and his makeup is extremely good. You spend just as much time in awe of his look as you do his performance, and he takes the role very seriously. Dominic Cooper is delightful as Lincoln's mentor and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is impishly cute in period dress. Rufus Sewell isn't a particularly noteworthy villain, but at least he's not a shrieking psychotic one, which is what most movies tend to opt for these days. It's also a pleasant surprise to see fashion model Erin Wasson show up as a sultry villainess. The only criticism I can level at the film is that it's uneven and tries to cover too much ground. The middle of the film drags due to a conspicuous lack of vampires in Washington DC, but the harrowing and dramatic climax at Gettysburg is well worth the wait. The visual effects are quite good for the most part, but what fascinates me the most is Bekmambetov's skill at composition and editing. In anyone else's hands, this film would be a complete mess, but he manages to make even the most outlandish ideas tangible, dramatic, urgent, and completely believable within the worlds he creates. A rare and enviable talent to say the least, and one that makes "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" much more enjoyable than it probably deserves to be.