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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » Byzantium
IFC Films // R // June 28, 2013
Review by Jeff Nelson | posted June 27, 2013 | E-mail the Author
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Oscar-winning director Neil Jordan is known for making the incredibly well-made Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles. This sub-genre belonging to horror has become atrocious over the years, especially with flicks like The Twilight Saga being released. Due to the sheer number of similar motion pictures, I decided to give up on the sub-genre. With Jordan making another vampire film, it quickly caught my attention. There is a very short list of directors that would have changed mind, and he's one of those few. Viewers who are interested in watching an innovative motion picture, but refuse to watch the frustrating creatures created for pre-teens, will find Byzantium to be rather solid. It isn't excellent, but it's better than the majority of the vampire flicks that have been distributed lately.

Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) and Clara (Gemma Arterton) travel from place to place. The residents of each community are unaware of their true identities. They're incredibly private and never stay in one place for too long. Clara is a prostitute in order to afford a place to live. They ultimately find shelter at a local resort with a client. Clara has had no choice but to continue practicing this profession in order to survive. Eleanor meets Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), who she feels comfortable around. Little does he know, that Eleanor and Clara are really vampires and they need a place to feed. The big question that Eleanor continues to ask herself is: What are they running from?

Director Neil Jordan manages to take a story that could have possibly been another generic vampire flick and transforms it into something special. Byzantium has numerous twists and turns throughout the running time. Some of them are predictable, while others are nice surprises. The best part is that the audience is kept in the dark. We don't know everything that the protagonists do, which allows us to attempt to put the puzzle together within our minds. There are various stories being told to us from a variety of different characters. Clara is the most interesting of the characters, while Eleanor is the least intriguing. While Clara has an exceptional backstory, Eleanor occasionally comes across as whiny, which won't necessarily encourage audiences to care for her role. However, her interactions with Frank are quite believable. I never cared much for Eleanor by herself, but she's a lot more bearable as a package with Frank.

Byzantium's structure constantly cuts between the past and present. The flashbacks are utilized extremely well. These segments work with the primary story, when countless motion pictures force them to clash. Those who are expecting the stereotypical vampire will be surprised to discover that a couple alterations have been made to the creature. Instead of having ultra-sharp teeth, they have protractible thumbnails. They're a lot less menacing, but I don't think that the filmmakers ever meant for this movie to be scary in the first place. The film tries to deliver an emotional impact that isn't quite there. It succeeds in making us care about the overall narrative, but that isn't enough to influence audiences to feel any overwhelming emotion. Once the credits start rolling, you'll feel rather neutral to the events that just occurred on the screen.

Even if this script was perfect, the actors could have destroyed the picture's message. Fortunately, the casting is suitable for each role. Saoirse Ronan is convincing as Eleanor. While the character herself isn't very interesting, she makes this seemingly young vampire bearable. Gemma Arterton is excellent in the role of Clara. She's incredibly believable throughout. She makes this vampire come across as seductively enthralling to watch on screen. Caleb Landry Jones is a strong addition to the cast as Frank. Even though he doesn't receive a lot of screen time, he's absolutely crucial to the plot. Frank influences Eleanor to be a lot more brave than she would be otherwise. There aren't any bad performances to be found throughout Byzantium.

Director Neil Jordan's visual influence is clear from start to finish. He uses a variety of color palettes. Each one represents a different time period or emotion, which allows for the visuals to breathe life into the motion picture. There are some shots that look absolutely beautiful. Every frame captures the essence of this movie extremely well. Byzantium ultimately boasts successful visuals, as they represent the story's messages with ease. This visual flair draws us in, even though the film doesn't always succeed in keeping us immersed.

In a world filled with boring vampire flicks, Jordan's newest feature is one of the better ones I have seen lately. It focuses a lot more on the life of being a vampire and the consequences it has instead of the romance. Clara is a very interesting character that audiences will enjoy learning about. Even though the motion picture plays around with the idea of death and immortality, it can't necessarily be classified as a horror film. This fantasy/drama digs quite a bit deeper than most of these projects would dare to attempt, but it isn't always successful. Byzantium has a mean bite, but it doesn't always hit the intended mark. Regardless of the issues, it still stands out from fellow sub-genre entries. Recommended.

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