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At the age of 9, Abraham Lincoln (Lux Haney-Jardine) witnesses his mother being killed by a vampire, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas). Some 10 years later, Abe (Benjamin Walker) unsuccessfully tries to eliminate Barts but in the process makes the acquaintance of Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) who teaches him how to fight and what is required to kill a vampire - but only at Sturgess' direction. Abe relocates to Springfield where he gets a job as a store clerk while he studies the law and kills vampires by night. He also meets and eventually marries the pretty Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Years later as President of the United States, he learns that vampires are fighting with the Confederate forces and mounts his own specially designed campaign to defeat them.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Don't you hate it when it takes a movie to reveal the truth about the past, and as significant as this: US President Abraham Lincoln was a vampire hunter, and who knew until now? His secret diaries fell into the hand of Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov ... well, no actually, it was novelist Seth Grahame-Smith who found it and worked it into a story that begins with the traumatised young Abe witnessing a vampire attack on his mother.

Excuse the flippancy but the concept is so preposterous it is an idea asking to be ridiculed. Not that fictional stories hung on historical facts are beneath contempt; not at all. I love those mind games, whether literary (like Robert Harris' Fatherland) or filmic. But this device must work to reveal something or say something. Doing it merely as an attention grabbing tool is less exciting for audiences. All the same, I admire the chutzpah, even if the result is a bit tedious - despite the fireworks of stunts and gore and SFX.

For one thing, I like Rufus Sewell and I haven't seen him in anything for years. He has an idiosyncratic manner, even now after he's had his wonky eye straightened. He plays a mean vampire leader determined to win (for the vampires) the American Civil War - to which he was never invited.

Dominic Cooper is another favourite, a chameleon who can play decent and nasty with equal verve, here doing both. Benjamin Walker as Lincoln is the least engaging, but it's not entirely his fault: he's been written a stolid character, whose only redemption is his love for the smart and pretty Mary Todd - played sweetly with guts by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Anthony Mackie is wasted as Will Johnson, the token black fighting slavery from the freedom side - but he's highly likeable.

And then there's the vampire that starts it all, Jack Barts, played with ferocious intensity and a crazed laugh by another terrific screen actor, Marton Csokas (lovely guy).

Some around me at the preview were sniggering, and there are a couple of black laughs (a head in a grave facing the wrong way, for example) perhaps because there is just not enough substance to it. Lots of graphic, slo-mo blood spills, big battle scenes and gunfire, axe-wielding Abe chopping down the vampires (albeit often in a blur of action we can't really relish) and a few quiet moments when we are on pause while history takes place.

If you've seen Bekmambetov's Day Watch [2006] ("As ornate as a high class Russian samovar," I called it) and/or Night Watch, you'll know this is his milieu; he loves the genre and caresses its every sinew.

Review by Louise Keller:
It might have looked tempting on paper: a mash-up of a historic figure, a US president no less, who hides a bloody secret and a trail of headless vampire corpses behind him. But whatever clever literary concepts screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith has adapted from his novel, has been well and truly stomped on by Night Watch Russian director Timur Bekmambetov, whose rampage of vampiric bloody gore is a special effects feast that rides on the coattails of a strident music score. Neither engaging history lesson nor satisfying vampire thriller, the film with its frenetic, blood thirsty action scenes shot mostly in tight close up, makes us feel cheated.

The premise demands that the basic historic touchstones are respected - namely the abolishment of slavery and the American Civil War. What history never revealed and provides a springboard for the fictional story - that the President's monogrammed silver fork is melted down (together with the North's entire silverware) as ammunition against an army of vampires. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. After a short scene establishing the date of April 14, 1865, the day before Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, there's a flashback showing Abe as a young boy, shattered by the discrimination against slaves and the subsequent death of his mother by the evil hand of vampire Jack Barts (Marton Csokas).

He is still angry when as a young man (Benjamin Walker), he meets Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper), who wears really cool sunglasses and teaches him some handy tricks on how to kill vampires. He also makes him understand that real power comes from the truth and not from hatred. Then we meet Rufus Sewell as the striking head honcho vampire who is involved in major action scenes, like the one on the top of a speeding train, when all the vampires jump onboard intending to steal the silver. Trouble is, the scene is a bit like a music video with axes swinging, blood streaming and music blaring. All the action scenes play out this way and are rather repetitive after a while. After you've seen one decapitated vampire head, you've seen them all - more or less. As for the more earnest dramatic scenes - well, they are just plain dull.

The reliance on ageing makeup and wardrobe to complete the illusion of the Abraham Lincoln we have all grown up to imagine, feels contrived - especially as the surrounding characters, Abe's sweet wife Mary (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and his best friend Will (Anthony Mackie) hardly look a day older. Walker is rather wooden, although it is hardly his fault, the character is written that way. And of course, vampires don't age. In the scare department, there are a few hairy moments and director Bekmambetov consistently uses blood to maximum effect. The 3D effects may not shower us with blood but they are used in the cheesiest way. The film was never meant to be Shakespeare, nor were we expecting anything subtle, but I had hoped for more.

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(US, 2012)

CAST: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Marton Csokas, Jimmi Simpson, Joseph Mawle, Robin Mcleavy, Erin Wasson, John Rothman, Cameron M. Brown, Frank Brennan, Lux Haney-Jardine, Curtis Harris

PRODUCER: Timur Bekmambetov, Tim Burton, Jim Lemley

DIRECTOR: Timur Bekmambetov

SCRIPT: Seth Grahame-Smith (novel by Grahame-Smith)


EDITOR: William Hoy

MUSIC: Henry Jackman


RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes



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