Combustible Celluloid
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With: Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Sam Riley, Jonny Lee Miller, Tom Hollander, Daniel Mays, Caleb Landry Jones, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Warren Brown
Written by: Moira Buffini, based on her play
Directed by: Neil Jordan
MPAA Rating: R for bloody violence, sexual content and language
Running Time: 118
Date: 06/28/2013

Byzantium (2013)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Teeth and Nails

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Neil Jordan's films have a wonderful, moody, patient, quiet quality that, even if it doesn't always cover up weak or ordinary material, enhances his best work. It definitely lends itself to non-realistic and supernatural subjects like The Company of Wolves, Interview with the Vampire, and the romantic Ondine. Jordan's vampire film Byzantium likewise works because of this style, and although it doesn't exactly reinvent the genre, it least offers a fresh, reflective take.

When Clara (Gemma Arterton) and her daughter Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) are discovered, they are forced to move again. They have been doing this for two centuries. They are vampires. Their new home, in a dilapidated hotel, looks promising, especially since Clara can make money with a prostitution ring. But when Eleanor meets a strange, tender young man, Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), she decides she wants to stop running and tell someone the truth for a change. She tries to write a story about her history, but unfortunately, her mother has never told her an important part of it. And that part, a kind of vampire cop called Darvell (Sam Riley), is hot on Clara's trail.

Jordan's movie is definitely gory, but he focuses on the moods and textures of vampirism. A dropped, blood-soaked handkerchief becomes an object of allure, more so than any flesh-and-blood victim. Various potent physical spaces, especially the seaside, reflect the characters' innermost emotions. Jordan also relishes the physical touch of skin, both erotic and violent. Certainly many viewers will bemoan a certain lack of romance in this approach, but for the adventurous, Byzantium is a lovely thing of dark poetry.

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