Bloodletting – “Byzantium” Review

GemmaArterton - Byzantium

Dark, mysterious, and achingly dull. Interview With The Vampire Director Neil Jordan’s latest tale of bloodsuckers succeeds at being a sophisticated take on the genre while simultaneously failing to excite. Saoirse Ronan stars as Eleanor, a teenage vampire on the run with her mother Clara played by Gemma Arterton. Strange men are looking for these two and the movie follows them as they take refuge in a seaside hotel. As the story ambles forward, the movie flashes back hundreds of years to explain how this mother and daughter were turned and why a gulf exists between them. Little by little tiny revelations come forward to illuminate the present. It’s structured like a grand saga, an epic tragedy. Unfortunately neither time period is all that compelling.

It’s that rare case of precision and care and a mature approach to the subject subtracting more than it adds. The elegance sucks the life out of the film. It is a pretty picture though. Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt carefully crafts a rich and textured look while the production design evokes years of melancholy. Ronan is one of the most talented young actresses but she misses the mark here. She’s playing wise beyond her years but it feels more like she’s a brooding 30-year-old instead of a world weary creature of 200. Arterton sizzles with the sex appeal appropriate for a former Bond-girl but she too fails to change gears. The rest of the cast is filled out nicely by Daniel Mays, Sam Riley, Jonny Lee Miller, and Tom Hollander, but their roles are so small they can’t breathe any life into the calcified remains.

Byzantium does sport some new ideas regarding vampire lore. Instead of fangs, a single thumbnail sharpens before a kill. Also, the manner in which one is made a vampire is something more akin to a fraternity initiation, and so on. These deviations are interesting but cry out for more exploring. The movie isn’t afraid to get good and bloody when it feels like it, which isn’t nearly enough times. Small intimate moments eventually determine the fates of Eleanor and Clara, which is counter-intuitive for a film straining to feel so large. Like an antique, it’s nice in a display case but turns to dust when taken out and used.

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