★ / ★★★★
Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) and Clara (Gemma Arterton) have a secret: they have been “alive” for over two hundred years. They are vampires and on the run from a trio of men (Thure Lindhardt, Sam Riley, Uri Gavriel) who appear to know what they are. With a fresh corpse lying face down in their apartment, Eleanor and Clara escape to a seaside town. The plan is to allow enough time for their trail to cool off and earn enough money before they move to a more secure location. Meanwhile, Eleanor gets the attention of Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), a waiter she meets after playing a beautiful melody on the piano.
“Byzantium,” based on a play by Moira Buffini and directed by Neil Jordan, is acted quite exquisitely but it is a trial to sit through. Its look and feel is quite somber, heavy on the eyes with dark shades of red and occasionally poorly lit indoors, so the molasses slow pacing does not do it any favor. Though a much needed adrenaline surges through its veins in the third act, it is too late. I long ceased to care about the figures sulking about on screen.
Part of the reason why it does not work involves the execution of the so-called attraction between Eleanor and Frank. While the actors look good together at times, the dialogue feels too much like a play. They give each other plenty of longing glances but what they have is not allowed to evolve into something interesting. The script is stuck on one idea only different words are utilized to communicate the same thing. As a result, the passion is barely an ember. The relationship needs to be scorching hot—to be a bit more exaggerated—and readily able to move forward at right time so the film demands the attention consistently.
It is plagued with one dimensional characters—somewhat of a surprise because the story jumps between the past and the present which means that it has more of a chance to show certain characters on a deeper level. Clara should have been the most complex. We see her having a difficult background but there is no bridge between she and us. Therefore, it is difficult to care what for what she values. Instead, she is reduced to looking sexy without actually being sexy. This is from the director who helmed the effortlessly seductive “Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles.”
The three men on the hunt for the two women are boring. A discussion about rules that must be adhered to—yada yada yada—remain so vague that it is frustrating to follow. In addition, their methods appear so ordinary during the first half. In the third act, however, elements of camp are introduced. Is this intentional? An act of desperation because halfway through the director realized that the majority of the picture is soporific? How are we supposed to swallow what is happening when the tone is suddenly schizophrenic? It was a mess; it could not end any sooner.
When the picture has nothing to say—which is often—the melancholy piano comes to the rescue and attempts to fill in the empty moments. Clearly what we have here is a screenplay that fails to connect and translate a play onto celluloid.