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Thursday, April 25, 2013

BYZANTIUM: Tribeca Film Festival 2013 Review

Gemma Arterton in BYZANTIUM
Photo credit: Christopher Raphael
2013, 118 minutes
Rated R for bloody violence, sexual content and language

Review by Joshua Handler

Oscar-winner Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Interview with the Vampire) directs this beautifully-made vampire film which, in an age when Twilight rules the box office, stands out as an entertaining entry into this familiar genre.  Byzantium stars Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton, two centuries-old vampires who try to keep their identities secret as they travel to a sea-side town.  

Ronan and Arterton are fantastic in their respective roles.  Ronan, one of the finest young actresses working today, plays Eleanor, a 200-year-old vampire who has not aged a bit since she was a teen.  Somehow, her mentality is still that of a teenagers, a major logic flaw a fellow critic pointed out.  Eleanor is introverted and quiet, which Ronan portrays quite well.  In a way, Eleanor is similar to her character in Joe Wright's masterful 2011 film Hanna.  Ronan is a very perceptive actress and captures details that many inferior actresses would ignore.  Arterton plays Clara, Eleanor's protector and companion.  She works as a prostitute to support herself and Eleanor.  Arterton is a great match for Ronan.  Clara is tough, extroverted, yet loving, and Arterton captures these traits beautifully.  I hope this film gives her more attention because she has a lot of potential.

The cinematography by Sean Bobbitt (Shame, The Place Beyond the Pines) is beautiful and the highlight of the film.  He makes use of dark, grimier colors, while still emphasizing the red blood.  The lighting is magnificent and it complements Simon Elliott's (The Iron Lady) production design greatly.  Byzantium looks polished, and Javier Navarrete's (Pan's Labyrinth, Cracks) score is the icing on the cake.  It is mysterious and lyrical.

Neil Jordan does a solid job directing Byzantium from Moira Buffini's (Jane Eyre) script.  As mentioned above, with his fantastic technical crew, he makes this film look and feel mysterious and haunting, but he also infuses some heart in the film in many places, particularly the love story aspect.  The love story that develops between Eleanor and a boy in the town she's living in is actually compelling because Jordan, Buffini, and the actors develop the characters.  I actually cared about the love story, which is no small feat.  Also, the final scene is beautiful and powerful and is a satisfying way to close off the movie.

Byzantium moves at a good pace, not too fast, not too slow.  To keep things interesting, there are some wonderfully bloody scenes that occur every so often.

Overall, Byzantium is a solid vampire film.  The logic flaw, upon further thought, is really bad, but I was nonetheless very entertained and, at some points, moved by this lovely film.


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