In real history, Abraham Lincoln was the tragic philosopher-president who penned the greatest address in American history, and preserved the nation through its worst ordeal while destroying slavery, its worst institution. He cannot be treated lightly and the dialogue must be good. In this film it is better than good. The characters, from Lincoln to Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to Sturgess to Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson) to arch-vampire villain Adam (played with rock star arrogance and decadence by Rufus Sewell) deliver memorable, quotable lines effortlessly. Benjamin Walker’s Lincoln is believable, not a cardboard cutout or unreachable, inhuman icon. He is a man who thinks and breathes, suffers wounds and chops vampires to bits.
Visually, AL:VH stuns and shocks and will soak you in slo-mo Hollywood blood. It earns its R rating from one set piece battle to the next: a gory battle with a pharma vampire one minute, a dizzying horse stampede fight, a vampire’s ball turned feast turned battle, and sweeping views over gigantic scenes of Civil War chaos and carnage. An amazing train sequence takes the old Western movie trope of the train robbery, adds a huge bridge fire, betrayal, vampires, an iconic president and free black man working together, and makes all of that central to the Union’s war efforts. It’s a bit much to take in all at once, and honestly a bit much to take, but fun at the same time. The action and speed of the film get in the way more than once, though the stately treatment of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address gives a pause to breathe near the end. This film isn’t for children, other than the director who at times seems like a kid playing with digital effects for the first time. Bullet time gets overused as man and undead fly about slinging weapons and flinging buckets of blood.