Lay The Favourite, Stephen Frears, 83 mins (15) Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Timur Bekmambetov, 100 mins (15) Silent Souls, Alexsei Fedorchenko, 74 mins (15)

The President prepares to make some savage cuts

Nicholas Barber
Saturday 23 June 2012 18:33
Benjamin Walker prepares to do battle in 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter'
Benjamin Walker prepares to do battle in 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter'

Stephen Frears's Lay The Favourite opens with a caption declaring that it's a true story. The events it depicts may be true, but whether they qualify as a story is another matter. Rebecca Hall stars as a ditzy stripper who moves to Las Vegas and gets a job ferrying wads of cash around for a professional gambler, Bruce Willis. It's unclear exactly what Willis does, but it involves sitting in a messy office and staring at a bank of screens, so it's not what you'd call cinematic. Anyway, Willis shouts at Hall for a while, then she moves to New York where she shouts at a bookie played by Vince Vaughn. But it's an hour before anything resembling a plot, and then it's only a vague resemblance.

How this pointless exercise attracted such a classy cast is anyone's guess. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Joshua Jackson have particularly insulting non-roles as Willis's catty wife and Hall's bland boyfriend, but no one fares much better. As desperately as they ham up their performances, they can't alter the fact that this is a gambling caper in which nothing's at stake.

And speaking of stakes ... Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter proposes that while honest Abe (Benjamin Walker) may have spent his days rising from law student to American President, he spent his nights beheading undead bloodsuckers in acrobatic slow motion. What's odd is that the film plays this droll concept remarkably straight, presenting itself as a historical biopic that happens to have some piranha-faced monsters in it.

This approach is especially surprising considering that the producer and screenwriter, Tim Burton and Seth Grahame-Smith, were so tongue-in-cheek on their last vampire movie, Dark Shadows. Their earnestness might have been warranted if the film had drawn any illuminating parallels between Lincoln's real life and this fictional one. But Timur Bekmambetov's movie doesn't have time for such niceties. It's one long, fevered montage which rushes from decade to decade, pausing only for its overblown, CGI action sequences.

Another Russian-directed film, Alexsei Fedorchenko's Silent Souls, couldn't be more different. Just 74 minutes long, it's a tantalising road movie that succeeds both as tender lament for departed loved ones and cultures, and as mischievous comedy on the same subject. It's been likened to Tarkovsky, but you could compare it to the Coens and Wes Anderson too.

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