Every so often, movie studios will, with astounding proximity, release films on very similar topics. Some recent examples would be Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, The Prestige and The Illusionist, and A Bugs Life and Antz. The most recent occurence of this focuses on the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. This week, director Steven Spielberg's latest film, Lincoln, came into wide release in theaters. Lincoln features a power house cast including Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Daniel Day-Lewis as “Honest Abe.”
The second movie, recently released on DVD, is titled Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov, most famous for the movie Wanted, Vampire Hunter is an adaptation of a novel by the same title, combining the genres of history and horror.
Weird contrast, right? Both play as completely serious films, but one is a true look at the final four months of Lincoln's presidency as the issue of slavery is tearing apart congress, while the other is about a revenge-seeking Lincoln who is unusually gifted with an axe and takes out a heck of a lot of creepy vamps.
The way my weekend panned out, I ended up watching both of these films within 24 hours of each other – super bizarre to see such different portraits of the same beloved American icon.
Vampire Hunter was much better than I expected. Some movies I simply write-off simply by their title. This would have been one of those had I not been invited to a buddy's place to watch it. As long as you're not looking for a script lifted from the pages of your high school history book, Vampire Hunter is an intense and original tale in today's vast pool of mostly lifeless vampire fiction. The action was exciting; the story was intriguing. This is a good, fun rental.
On the other side of the coin is Lincoln, easily one of my top 5 most anticipated movies of the year.
When Spielberg tackles historic narrative, great things happen (see also Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List). Adding to the attraction was the film's leading man, award-magnet Daniel Day-Lewis. Once I heard he had the role, I could not imagine an actor better suited for that challenge. He said in an interview with Yahoo! Movies that he avoided the gig for a long time, feeling the weight of its expectations. The end result is a sprawling epic of a movie, though it may not be what you'd think. It is very much a character study, not a war picture. Spielberg assumes you know the historical side of things, dropping you right into the final months of the civil war. The film focuses on Lincoln's battle to both end the war and end slavery, two thing that appeared nigh impossible to abolish simultaneously. Though it runs for a lengthy two and a half hours, Lincoln is well paced, despite being almost entirely filled with various scenes of dialogue and debate. This does, however, turn this movie into an actor's film.
Spielberg delivers an accurate, honest and emotional window into the struggle of a humble, respected political giant to maintain his dignity and personal life while balancing the fate of a nation on his shoulders.
I believe we will see Lincoln nominated for plenty of Oscars; it will almost certainly be nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor (Jones) and a variety of technical nods. I personally would guess Sally Field will get a nomination for Supporting Actress. The real show-stealer, appropriately enough, is Day-Lewis. While not my favorite actor, I can confidently say that he may be the best actor working today. His ability to completely transform into a role is jaw-dropping, and Abe Lincoln is a prime example of that. He is barely recognizable as an English-Irish low-profile actor as all the audience sees for 2.5 hours is the jovial, story-telling president who united a nation in its darkest hour to date.
I can definitely recommend this film as one to go to the theaters and enjoy. You will not find much better filmmaking out there today; a truly moving piece of American history.