Back in 1994, Director Neil Jordan took on his most prolific work to date – Anne Rice’s novel turned flick "Interview with a Vampire." It continued the cool character work shown so aptly in the brilliant "The Crying Game," but added back some of the genre lush previously seen in "The Company of Wolves." With his return to the fanged film scene with the new film "Byzantium," Jordan does once again display signature style, but is also working from a script that has a severe lack of focus. As a result the film is not a sharp as it should be – classic bark overpowering bite.
Eleanor and Clara are a mother/daughter vamp team who’ve kept moving from place to place for over two hundred years in an effort to evade those out to do harm. They end up settling in a run-down hotel on the English coast and each finds that they must come to terms with relationships, both past and present, to be able to escape their own inner demons.
The above may sound ethereal and complex, but frankly the film is simply desperate to prove it’s smart. Flashing back to the duo’s early days during the Napoleonic Wars and complex nature of Gemma Arterton’s knack for picking men with baggage may seem to add layers to the story, but it’s all a sad smokescreen that masks the good stuff. And, as usual, the good stuff is all the work by the ever-solid Saoirse Ronan, who has never met a character she couldn’t make more interesting. Her work here is the real stuff to watch and here matched with the equally bizarre and captivating Caleb Landry Jones of "Antiviral" fame, the two make one of the most unique pairings since Stephen Rea and Jaye Davidson. Everything else is fuel for the ho-hum story fire and again makes for a film that feels unfinished.
I’ve never doubted the filmmaking prowess of Jordan even with films that were not so good. But it is good to see him here work his dark directing magic on actors like Ronan and Jones who flourish under the lights of an experienced helmer – too bad the rest of the undead gang didn’t follow the plan.
"BYZANTIUM" OPENS JUNE 28 IN SELECT THEATERS FROM IFC FILMS.