Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Thriller
Run Time: 1 hour, 58 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Caleb Landry Jones, Sam Riley, Thure Lindhardt
Written and based on the play by Moira Buffini
Directed by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Interview with the Vampire, Michael Collins, Breakfast on Pluto, Ondine)
Man does it suck to be a vampire. But give the new film, Byzantium (opening today), some credit: It is a vampire tale with a beating heart. Like most folk who tend to live forever though, it sort of outstays its welcome.
Successfully anchored by two terrific performances, Saoirse Ronan is Eleanor, a vampire daughter to her mother, Clara, played by Gemma Arterton. Eternally stuck as a teenager, this is not Twilight. Byzantium is a very adult film, tackling themes of loneliness, repression and feminism without ever glamorizing the fact that these two are vampires.
Unfortunately, the film rolls out as if we have all the time in the world to wait for it.
Told in the increasingly annoying "flashback" style, we slowly learn just why Clara and Eleanor are on the run for the past century or so. In the modern day, we watch as Eleanor becomes involved with a sickly-looking leading man if there ever was one (Caleb Landry Jones). When bodies turn up here and there, local authorities try to track down the duo. Eleanor grows weary of having to play the daughter to her seemingly irresponsible mother, despite her internal age of over 200.
This isn't director Neil Jordan's first trip around the vampire rodeo. He also directed Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire. He does manage to make an appealing vampire film in the wake of Twilight (a movie destined to be compared to every future vampire movie incarnation) and the slew of others trying to take advantage of their recent popularity. Byzantium is poetic and sophisticated, not just in comparison, but of its own accord.
The film's title beckons reference to the biblical city, upon which the megalopolis, Constantinople, was built. This is a fairly obvious metaphor to the ideas presented in this film, of re-birth and starting over, trying to build upon the ashes of what has come before.
But something saps the life from Byzantium. Maybe it goes on for too long, perhaps it doesn't quite know where it's going. It was hard to resist wanting to know exactly how vampires operate in this universe, an explanation that we are never clearly given.
With the performances from Ronan and Arterton, Byzantium holds together, but not enough to transcend the trappings of its chosen genre. Still, if ever there was an adult vampire movie, this is it. Lord knows that we have reached our breaking point with teeny-boppin' vampires, it's about time that we meet a few where there is really something at stake.
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