Since most of the crew were busy catching up on work related stuff after Easter, the radio show was still on hiatus last Thursday, which meant no review from me. Instead, I decided to spend the weekend catching up on some Oscar nominations. First on my list was Spielberg’s Lincoln. I was very keen to see this since American history films is my area of study. Little did I know about what the universe had in store for me.
On Saturday, I was set to finally see Life of Pi, but my friends invited me over for a movie night and out of all the random movies our host could have picked, she decided on Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Don’t worry, I have no intention of attempting any sort of comparison here. The protagonists aside, they are movies on opposite sides of the Hollywood spectrum. Instead, I’ll review them in order of viewing.
Despite the title, the film isn’t actually a biopic about Abraham Lincoln. It focuses instead on the debate and passage of the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution, coupled with the horrors of the American Civil War. It features powerful men giving impassioned speeches, side by side with small private moments of pure Lincoln. He appears exactly as anyone with any knowledge of the man would imagine him. Sometimes, the film is arguably slower than necessary for such a turbulent time, but for those who are fascinated with the very act of putting history on film, there is never a dull moment.
At every moment, Spielberg’s movie making, the actors’ performances, and John Williams’ fantastic score, swirl together to create a film that would have failed utterly had just one element been removed. Even as a Norwegian – albeit one that has always had an obsession with American history and politics – I felt incredibly invested in the fate of the nation, as portrayed. During the final voting on the amendment, I admit to feeling an itch to stand and give my vote. I won’t pretend to be able to comment on the historical accuracy of the film, but from an esthetic point of view, the film feels like both documentary and poetry.
As many had said, Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance steals much of the show. Sometimes his presence can be felt even when he’s off-screen. People weigh their decisions as though he’s listening at their shoulder. The command of Lincoln the legend, however, is put aside more often than I expected. The man under the hat is in the room most of the time, and we understand how such a strange man could become President. From the first to last shot, Lincoln is framed as both the real man, and the portrait of the man. The instantly recognizable silhouette feels almost mythic, yet when the lights hit him, he is very human. It is a beautiful combination.
Perhaps the performance could be said to be almost too perfect, as no doubt there will be those who now equate Lincoln, the historical figure, with this particular representation. And with such a limited glimpse – again it is not a biopic – we might never see a representation of this scale do the rest of Lincoln’s life, his growth, justice.
Dice roll: 5
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
I have read, and enjoyed, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which is what started the very short trend of re-writing old stories with supernatural addendums. I don’t know if Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter should really be included, but it definitely seems to have ended the trend as quickly as it popped up. The film doesn’t exactly convince me it was a genre worth continuing.
This time we do get a “biopic” of Lincoln, starting from youth, when Lincoln’s mother is killed by a vampire. Young Abraham is recruited by the very obviously a vampire to everyone except Lincoln, Henry Sturges. One montage later, the axe-wielding Lincoln is now also a law student and on his way to juggling his historical life with the fictitious one.
Re-writing or tweaking history can be very entertaining – just ask Tarantino – and I was very much set for a fun romp of vampire slaying intercut with sly presidenting. Lincoln the vampire hunter, however, seems to be unsure when he’s slaying vampires and when he’s giving speeches. There is no wink to the audience, no quick exit out the back of Congress to cut down a few strays, and not a single Lincoln worthy oneliner.
Yes, the story in itself is relatively interesting. I did become invested in Lincoln as a character, but I could not help but wonder if this was because he was Lincoln or just because he was a young man wanting revenge. Every time he did something very Lincolnesque, it looked a parody. Only when age wore both him and me down somewhat did I accept Abraham Lincoln as a vampire hunter.
The supporting characters – in stark contrast to Lincoln – are thin as wraiths. Only Henry Sturges gets an engaging backstory, but again the film is so desperate to show us how Lincoln is still following his historical life, that we only get tidbits thrown our way.
The one thing that could save the entire spectacle is the action, but sadly it lacks any sense of excitement or fun. Coupled with a herde of terrifying CGI horses, the stunts and fights always feel just a tad too serious. The title promised something so crazy it just might work, but the film seems to have forgotten that hunting vampires while jumping from horse to horse is ridiculous no matter who is involved. You can’t have physics-defying fights and not have fun with it. The whole Southern army seems to consist of vampires – talk about demonizing the South! – but instead of knowingly letting us cheer as they are blasted away with silver cannonballs, the film is stuck in a strange place where every other scene feels like a real biopic. This slows the momentum down considerably. Instead of pushing through with the gathering of the silver to the big show-down, we pause for no reason to say goodbye to Mary Lincoln, whose departure from Washington is not mentioned again, even though we spent two scenes making sure the audience know she’s leaving.
Some of the stunts were fun, and the vampires were surprisingly creepy and I loved that they were proper, traditional vampires (except for the rule against hurting each other, which only hurt my head). But they weren’t enough to redeem the lack of FUN!
Dice roll: 2