Film review by Jason Day of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, starring Gary Oldman as an aged vampire who meets a woman who is the physical reincarnation of his long-dead bride. Co-starring Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins and Keanu Reeves.
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Young and ambitious solicitor Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) is offered the chance of a lifetime at advancing his career. Count Dracula (Gary Oldman), an eccentric, elderly client has suddenly and perplexingly started buying property in and around London. Jonathan is duly despatched to help seal the deals and curry favour with him after his colleague Reinfield (Tom Waits), who left several months before, returned empty-handed having completely lost his mind.
Unbeknownst to Jonathan, the Count is ‘living dead’, a ‘Nosferatu’, having renounced his life centuries before after his bride committed suicide. He exists in limbo by drinking the blood of living humans. The Count, noticing Mina’s striking resemblance to his wife, imprisons Jonathan and travels to London to seduce and ‘reclaim’ Mina. Death and tragedy follow his every step.
Review, by @Reelreviewer
Is this film a case of style over substance?
Francis Ford Coppola, in what then was a complete about turn for him having made his name with operatic mafia dramas and smart thrillers, sure offers a lot of flourish and flash to his version of Stoker’s classic novel.
Some of his visual touches are staggeringly beautiful, a feast for the eyes. Added together, they make the film appear as cluttered as a Victorian sitting room.
I feel like I’m being a hypocrite here, for I value cinematic beauty, how gorgeous a movie is, above anything else about a film. But with Dracula, I feel Coppola is showing off somewhat, going the extra distance just for the hell of it.
I feel like shouting at the screen: “OK man, you know how to direct a f*cking film – now can you concentrate on the story”?
Of those ravishing moments that make the eye widen with delight:
- There is a shadow theatre during the Transylvanian/Turkish war
- Jonathan and Mina’s kiss that is veiled by a peacock opening its feather
- Mina and Lucy running through an April shower, kissing each other, as the sailing ship Demeter ploughs through rough waters
- Mina’s costuming is delectable throughout thanks to Eiko Ishioka. They are a triumph of the costume designer’s craft (and why I have credited him here, something I’ve never done before) but her mint green dress and pill-box hat when she first meets Dracula is breathtaking. Ishioka richly deserved her Academy Award
- Mina and Dracula’s hands caressing as they stroke a wolf
- Mina and Dracula drinking absinthe in gorgeous isolation.As the shadows of dancers whirl around them, blood cells swirl to signify their passion is jointly aroused.
And those that make you close them:
- Superimposing Ryder’s death on her suicide note
- The unconvincing, stunt-double shadows as Dracula propositions Jonathan to “stay with me…until a month from now”
- Reinfield lunges for Dr Jack, chomping on the right side of his neck. Jack pulls away but puts this hand to the left side of his neck
- Jonathan’s bedtime frolicking with three of Dracula’s strumpets sees a mannequin being used when they lick his nipples
- The silent movie scene is unnecessary and technically false. No silent movie camera of the 1890’s was ever that mobile. And people’s heads were never chopped out of the film
- Mina turning into one of Dracula’s brides and her kiss with van Helsing is as wooden as a stake you need to slay Dracula.
Despite struggling with her English accent Ryder still makes a highly sexual, erotically charged coupling with Oldman, whose thick accent, just slightly overdone and in keeping with the tone of the movie, is the delicious accompaniment to his dangerously seductive Dracula. It’s a stunningly visual performance and he is comfortable either plastered in layers of prosthetic makeup or as the handsome, dashing younger man.
Country and Western singer and occasional movie actor Tom Waits seemingly inhabits a different sphere to everyone else in the film. Imbued with some kind of supernatural energy, his estate agent Reinfield is as loopy as they come. It’s pure panto-derangement, but what entertaining panto it is. Oldman aside, it’s the best turn in the film.
Poor Reeves also struggles with his English accent, literally trying to force it out at times, shifting his body in some scenes as if he were trying to let loose a stool. His career which, thankfully for him continued after this disaster, will forever be referenced with his one killer line here, delivered with consummate constipation: “I know where the BARSTUD sleeps. I should KNAR. I brought him THAR. To Carfax ABBAY”
Oldman and Ryder aren’t the only one’s with multiple roles: Hopkins appears at the beginning of the film as one of Dracula’s clergy.
Wojciech Kilar’s sumptuous score is complemented by songs written by pop star Annie Lennox.
Cast & credits
Director: Francis Ford Coppola. 2 hours 7 mins/127mins. Columbia/Osiris Films/American Zoetrope. (18)
Producers: Francis Ford Coppola, Fred Fuchs, Charles Mulvehill.
Writer: James V. Hart.
Camera: Michael Ballhaus.
Music: Wojciech Kilar.
Sets: Thomas E. Sanders.
Costumes: Eiko Ishioka.
Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves, Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Billy Campbell, Sadie Frost, Tom Waits, Monica Bellucci, Michaela Bercu, Florina Kendrick.