Neil Jordan, director of 1994's "Interview with the Vampire" returns to the world of the undead with "Byzantium", a screen adaptation of Moira Buffini's play, "A Vampire Story". "Interview with the Vampire" was based on a novel by Anne Rice of the same name and it would appear from watching "Byzantium" that Jordan is drawn to a very particular way of portraying this blood-sucking race. In many ways "Byzantium" is very similar to "Interview" and both provide a very different viewpoint and portrayal of a topic with which the movie world is now saturated.
"Interview" follows the story of Louis, a self-loathing vampire, from his rebirth, and his twisted relationship of hate and dependence with his cruel and depraved sire, Lestat. Similarly, "Byzantium" follows the tale of Eleanor and her sire and mother, Clara, as they try to live with themselves and what they are. Both films provide us with the monster's perspective. Unlike in many vampire tales, such as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", these vampires retain their humanity and must attempt to find "humane" methods of acquiring human blood.
"Byzantium" is an incredibly imaginative story, full of original ideas surrounding how vampires live, where they come from, how they are made. In order to make such beings sympathetic and more than 2D villains, Jordan has cast two fantastic actresses as Clara and Eleanor. Gemma Arterton effortlessly encapsulates Clara, the beautiful mother who had her youth and innocence ripped away from her and must sacrifice her own morality and virtue to protect her daughter. Saoirse Ronan is undoubtedly one of the greatest actors of her generation and has taken on numerous challenging and daring roles. She is perfectly cast as the isolated and conflicted Eleanor and few actresses of her age could so well capture the character of a 200 year old women stuck in the body of a teenage girl.
Unfortunately, despite the brilliant story and the wonderful performances, "Byzantium" lacks the flawless directing of "Interview". There are too many moments in the film when the audience has to suspend their disbelief as characters make decisions and act in a way which has no reason or justification, seemingly so that Jordan can link one scene to the next. A young, still human Clara inexplicably agrees to wander off with an unknown soldier, who turns out to be her downfall and put her on the path to joining the undead. A villain who has been chasing Clara across the world finally catches up with her, only to let his guard down moronically and fatally. Such moments in the film make it at times clunky and it ruins the flow of the plot.
What we have is all the potential of a brilliant film: great story, great cast and beautiful cinematography and scenery, even a good script. But Jordan has failed somewhat in putting these pieces together. That is not to say that this is not a film worth watching. With all the generic, unoriginal, downright poor vampire films and TV shows which have been released in the past few years, it has seemed as if the genre might have been good and truly tainted. However, "Byzantium" is an entertaining, at times truly exciting film with several great performances and many moving scenes. Although it is not the great film it could be, it is a good film and a must see for any vampire fan.