I absolutely loved the book Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith. It's smart, well researched, and written in the perfect tone. He gives us a unique theory on Abraham Lincoln's life, including his reported battles with depression. I was thrilled to hear Seth Grahame-Smith wrote the screenplay for the movie.
But I forgot what happens to good books in the hands of Hollywood. They took a great, rich story and first chopped out a ton of it. We don't get to see Abraham Lincoln growing up, or see how much contempt he feels for his weak yet ambitious father. Then they made changes, including one which completely reverses the dynamic between Henry Sturges and Abraham Lincoln, and one which deprives Lincoln of his drive to survive, even past so many personal tragedies. I got a sense from watching the movie that they further chopped the screenplay in editing, and that the movie should have been at least thirty minutes longer. I'm hoping for a director's cut of this movie, because I think whatever the studio executives decided was "fluff" would have turned this from a decent movie into a great one.
Leaving my agony of how the movie failed the book aside, this is a good movie. The acting is all solid, the special effects are excellent, and while feeling rushed and choppy, the screenplay is still well done. The costuming looks right for the time period, although the makeup to age the actors could have been done much better. While there isn't a lot of color to the movie, with lots of it happening at night, and the daytime having a sepia overtone, it still fits. I think they were going for "an old postcard brought to life" feel at times. The action scenes are often spectacular, including a chase across a stampede of horses. This is definitely not what I would call a "gory" movie, but it does have a lot of blood (all appropriate). That plus the overall dark tone makes it decidedly not little kid friendly.
Benjamin Walker fills the stovepipe hat of Abraham Lincoln well, especially as the younger version. He comes across as quiet, maybe shy, and very driven, but never brooding or overly-angsty. More importantly, he didn't turn the role into a caricature. I was often distracted by how much he looks like a young Liam Neeson, but that, for me, was definitely not a bad thing. Later when Walker has to play Lincoln at fifty, with a beard, he doesn't look very comfortable at first, but he gets into the swing of things quickly. I think he does the grand speeches justice, and overall was a great choice for the role.
Dominic Cooper (who I loved as Howard Stark in Captain America: The First Avenger) plays Henry Sturges with quiet charm, and believably tough where appropriate. He somehow takes up just as much of the screen as his much taller co-star when they're together. He's quickly becoming one of my favorite actors.
Mary Todd's character is played by Mary Elisabeth Winstead, quite a change from her tough girl character of Lucy Gennaro McClane in Live Free Or Die Hard, and her role as the teenaged daughter of a werewolf sheriff in a town full of werewolves in the awesome, yet short-lived Wolf Lake. Mary Todd could have been a whiny, unsympathetic character, but she's written as a human being, and Mary Elisabeth Winstead plays her without overacting.
Rufus Sewell plays the required villain, and does it with his usual flair for being the bad guy. He has lines that could have come across as ludicrous and cheesy, which would have been a poor fit for the serious tone of the film, but he delivers them with a calm, cold, evil tone.
Anthony Mackie as Lincoln's childhood friend Will Johnson, and Jimmie Simpson as Lincoln's later friend Joshua Speed give a good balance to the main characters. There aren't real chances for humor in the film, which is something I normally cry out for, but they manage to lighten things up a bit. It may be the contrast of their characters' not having the angst Lincoln is carrying around, but whatever it is, it works.
This is a movie that is frustrating, because it should have been great. It had everything going for it, from the author writing the screenplay, very good actors, very good CGI and cinematography. But you can feel how it was chopped to hell by executives forcing changes to the script to save time or fit their pre-conceived idea of what an audience can handle/understand, and by post production editing. If Tim Burton had directed instead of just produced I think this would have been the masterpiece I expected.
While I left the theater disappointed, I'm still glad to have paid the ticket price to see this on the big screen. I desperately hope they will release a director's cut, which I will buy in a heartbeat. For now I will go back and re-read the book, and try to stop saying "Oh, and another thing they left out/changed...!" to anyone within earshot.