“The blood is life.”
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Cast: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins
Synopsis: The vampire comes to England to seduce a visitor’s fiancÃ©e and inflict havoc in the foreign land.
By the time Francis Ford Coppola came to film his version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula the source novel had already been adapted for the screen more than fifteen times, so it was fairly important that he brought something different to the screen. He managed to do this by essentially returning to the slow, self-important tone of the novel, a decision he then compounded by eschewing modern digital special effects for old fashioned methods. This ultimately means that his version teems with a heavy Gothic atmosphere, but already looks rather dated. It also suffers from some truly poor acting from a cast that appears to have been chosen more for its box office appeal than each actor’s suitability for the role they play.
Keanu Reeves (Chain Reaction, The Matrix) plays Jonathan Harker (see what I mean?), an English law clerk given the task of travelling to Transylvania to complete the sale of 10 properties in London to Count Dracula (Gary Oldman — The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises). The fact that Harker is English means that Reeves is called upon to attempt an English accent which, given the fact that he often struggles to deliver a convincing performance of any description, places an unsustainable burden on his meagre acting talents. To be fair to Reeves, he doesn’t shrink from the challenge, but too often he sounds like he’s carefully reciting a phonetic transcription of the words he’s required to speak. The fact that Winona Ryder (1969), an actress of equally limited acting skill who plays Harker’s love interest Mina Murray, runs circles around him with her attempt at the accent tells you all you need to know, really.
Harker travels to Transylvania, where he meets the strange and quirky Count, who looks to be about four hundred years old (because he is) and swishes around in a fancy red gown. It’s not long before Harker realises that Dracula has no intention of allowing him to leave his castle — largely because the Count has spotted a locket photograph of Mina, who is the spitting image of Elisabeta, Dracula’s long-ago love whose death prompted him to revoke God and embrace darkness. The image of Mina awakens in Dracula a long dormant desire, so he leaves Harker in the debilitating care of a trio of nubile female vampires while he sails to London to introduce himself to the unsuspecting Mina. However, Harker escapes from the erotic attentions of Dracula’s vamps, and from the refuge of a Romanian monastery sends for Mina — Just as it looks as if Dracula’s making progress in his attempts to woo Mina over to the dark side…
The most impressive aspect of what is otherwise a fairly ponderous version of Stoker’s tale is the look of the thing, from the sets and the costumes, to the special effects, the simplicity of which makes them strangely endearing. James V. Hart’s screenplay remains relatively faithful to Stoker’s novel, the unfortunate side-effect of which is that it retains the emotional distance. Characters are thinly drawn and stereotypical, an impression which is strengthened by the fact that most of the actors deliver performances either rich in embellishments or lacking in finesse. Oldman rolls the Count’s accent around his tongue before releasing it so that Dracula becomes ‘Drah-cool-ya,’ while Reeves, whose hair changes colour from black to near-white from scene to scene, once again forgets to tell his face to move when he speaks.
Coppola would have been well advised to trim a good fifteen minutes from the running time, but that’s the danger that comes with being your own boss in the film industry — there’s no-one to tell you when your self-indulgence is showing. Just when the film should be revving up to a slam-bang finale it becomes this rambling, unfocused collection of scenes which serve largely to evaporate all the momentum so patiently accumulated in the preceding hour and a half.
(Reviewed 8th February 2014)