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Byzantium
★★☆☆☆
First run Theater cinema
Byzantium, a sexy but somber vampire thriller set in present-day England, doesn’t fully cohere as a film, but it certainly possesses a great deal of rich atmosphere, imagery and ideas. Saoirse Ronan, the beguiling young star of Hanna, The Lovely Bones, and Atonement, plays Eleanor, a conscientious and contemplative young girl damned to eternal adolescence by her aggressively vengeful mother Clara. Gemma Arterton, the buxom beauty from Tamara Drewe, Clash of the Titans and Quantum of Solace, gets a chance to display some real acting chops as Clara, whose fierce devotion to protecting her daughter is surpassed by her own self-interest. After roaming through England for over two hundred years, Clara and Eleanor’s survival is threatened when they wind up back in the seaside town where their strange existence began.

Screenwriter Moira Buffini has created an interesting take on the gothic vampire genre by incorporating a coming-of-age tale about an undead girl's adolescent rebellion. But this premise makes the film impossible to take seriously, unless you can accept it on the purely metaphorical terms that so many vampire stories seem to require. After all, Clara and Eleanor aren't really a young mother and a teenage girl; they are creatures who have cohabitated for centuries, and therefore this mother/daughter dynamic doesn’t fit their specific circumstances. But Buffini and director Neil Jordan work hard to give credibility to their film, or at least to make it entertaining. The movie contains stories within stories that double back on each other and constantly divert our attention from the main tale’s inherent flaws, and the filmmakers might have gotten away with all this cinematic sleight of hand were it not for the backstory's general lack of cogency.

Jordan, who has always been an accomplished visual director, creates many unforgettable impression here, and he elicits excellent performances from his cast. But his films almost always disappoint, and all too often the culprit is muddled storytelling or an inconsistent tone. In fact, of his eighteen films, among them Mona Lisa, Michael Collins, The Butcher Boy, The End of the Affair, and The Brave One, only his 1992 thriller The Crying Game succeeds on all levels.  Byzantium is certainly superior to Jordan’s previous foray into this genre, the Oscar-nominated and overrated Interview with the Vampire, and this picture deserves credit for attempting something fresh and distinctive in the currently overcrowded vampire genre.  But the abundance of undead and other supernatural beings on movie screens today makes it difficult to overlook this picture's weaknesses and enjoy it just for what feels fresh.
Directed by Neil Jordan
Produced by Alan Moloney, Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley, Sam Englebardt, and William D. Johnson

Screenplay by Moira Buffini
Based on the teleplay by Moira Buffini

With: Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Sam Riley, Jonny Lee Miller, Daniel Mays, Caleb Landry Jones, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Warren Brown, Thure Lindhardt, and Tom Hollander

Cinematography: Sean Bobbitt
Editing: Tony Lawson
Music: Javier Navarrete

Runtime: 118 min
Release Date: 31 May 2013
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1
Color