No, I didn’t read the book. I know, shame on me. How else can I make the standard exclamation of “the book was better!” if I haven’t actually read it? Who really cares, though? I think this is the sort of thing that should have gone direct to screenplay anyhow. It is the sort of B-movie concept that I feel can’t truly be captured and exploited as literature. But then again, I could be wrong. Because I didn’t read the book. On the plus side, it does allow me to have a completely unbiased review of the film. That’s a good thing, I think.
The film is everything you think it is. As ridiculous as you may think it is in your mind, it is every bit of that and more. There is no subtlety to this movie in the slightest. Everything is hammered home in loud bombast and with the firmest tongue-in-cheek attitude. The only reason this film is able to function as well as it does is because it plays everything 100% straight. There is no *wink wink* to be had here. By doing so, the film becomes incredibly fun. Abraham Lincoln:Vampire Hunter is melodramatic and dumb in ways that most people would struggle to fathom. This is a film in which a vampire throws a CGI horse at the titular character in the midst of a stampede. He literally grabs the horse by the hooves and chucks it at the man who freed the slaves. Reading that line should tell you everything you need to know about the tone of this movie. Whatever manner of true sincerity this film may ever hope to put on screen is trampled underfoot by scenes of horses being thrown at the president of the United States or someone power-sliding a horse drawn carriage into the manor of a slave plantation. In short, this film has the same depth of vision as a child playing with action figures in a sandbox.
Don’t think I’m slamming the movie though. This movie is my kind of stupid. The fact is that everyone involved sells the premise so hard that you can’t help but enjoy it. Benjamin Walker is an excellent Abraham Lincoln. I suspect he may have gotten the part because he looks so much like Liam Neeson, who was the frontrunner to play the president in Spielberg’s take before Daniel Day Lewis took over. Jimmi Simpson, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Marie Elizabeth Winstead, and Alan motherf##king Tudyk as Stephen Douglas all round out the cast and do a superb job of selling the insanity. I suspect that Cooper is going to break out as a big star pretty damned soon. If I’d had my druthers Mary Elizabeth Winstead would be a leading lady ten times over. She’s beautiful, confident, and even in a film like this she manages to sell us on her character with very little material to work with.
I know there are going to be many people who trash this movie, some without even seeing it. Yes some of the action scenes are overly muddled by the CGI as well as the editing. Yes you may feel a little guilty for how this film treats the subject of slavery. The fact of the matter is that this is not a great film, but as a pure piece of popcorn entertainment you really can’t ask for more. The difference between this film and many like it is this film’s ability to sell its own ludicrous nature. While the film is played completely straight you can tell the intent was for the audience to walk out with a smile on their face asking themselves what they just saw. This film does exactly that. Let’s just hope the producers don’t get too bold and try to hoist a sequel on us. That my friends, would be going too far.
This one veers way off the beaten path for the content of this blog but I’m currently taking a Civil War history course to finish out my minor concentration and have sort of found myself immersed in the conflict as I find it mind-bogglingly interesting and certainly pertinent to today’s political climate. Granted we haven’t had any Congressman-on-Congressman violence but our nation is divided in a manner that is evocotive of the later half of the ninteenth century. And so today, on the 146th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s death, I went to see a film that depicted the trial of the group of persons charged with conspiring to commit that act.
Lincoln is one of our presidents who seems to get put up on a pedestal as a martyr all these years after his death. He was one of the most influential presidents in United States history and while his contributions to the nation cannot be ignored it is important to note that the man was a politician and in an alternate universe if he thought he could win the war and get a second term of office without freeing the slaves you had better believe the man would have taken that route. The emancipation proclaimation was a wartime effort that he made against the urgings of his cabinet in order to ensure a northern victory in the war. He wasn’t the crusader that time has sometimes made him out to be. My point is not to belittle the actions of Lincoln but to point out the perceptions that surround the actions of a president were as strong in the nineteenth century as they are today. I don’t want to get into a debate about Obama and health care or the budget, but if he were killed tomorrow how would history regard his actions toward universal healthcare? In the case of Lincoln, his actions made him a target of fierce hatred, whatever the intent behind his actions. It was that furor that led to his assassination by John Wilkes Booth. But as the film is quick to remind us, it wasn’t only Lincoln who was targeted for murder on the night of April 14th, 1865 but also his vice president Andrew Johnson and his Secretary of State William H. Seward who was brutally stabbed but fortunately survived with viscious scars that he would bear for the rest of his life.
What follows is the story of U.S. Army Captain/attorney Frederick Aiken taking on the case of Mary Surratt, the mother of John Surratt, a suspected conspirator in the assassination plot who invited John Wilkes Boothe into his mother’s boarding house and therein concocted their plans. Aiken is torn between his loyalty to his country and wanting to see those involved in Lincoln’s death brought to justice and also his intense belief in the rule of law as it pertains to one’s constitutional rights. The deck is so clearly stacked against him as the trial is held as a military tribunal where Surratt is not allowed to speak in her own defense and the witnesses are withheld in secrecy so as to keep Aiken out of the loop. The film portrays Surratt as a bystander whose only connection to the plot was her relation to one of the actual conspirators, and evidence exists in the historical record to indicate that this may have been the case. The production house involved in making the film, The American Film Company, has a track record of trying to make the most historically accurate depictions of their subjects as possible and while I believe that the film was made to make a statement on the suspension of Habeus Corpus as it pertains to Guantanamo detainees and terrorist suspects, the parallels are certainly there in the historical record. Most of the historical inaccuracies come from things that are not clear in either direction, such as the fact to the best of anyone’s knowlege Frederick Aiken was not married but is portrayed as such in the film. Other than that there are only minor grievances to be made, such as the appearance of certain characters not matching their historical counterparts or the fact that the fort where the trial was held didn’t have a moat as depicted in the film.
It’s a fine film, with some strong acting from everyone involved. Except for maybe Justin Long who felt out of place. I like the guy but he just didn’t look at ease anywhere in the frame of the picture. It’s definitely worth watching, both as a matter of historical record and as a piece of entertainment as it truly is one of the better courtroom films I’ve seen recently as well.