Review: Bloodsucking 'Byzantium' draws scant blood
This film image released by IFC Films shows Caleb Landry Jones in a scene from "Byzantium." (AP Photo/IFC Films, Patrick Redmond)
LOS ANGELES (AP) — "I am Eleanor Webb. I throw my story to the wind." So says the ancient child-woman played by Saoirse Ronan in "Byzantium." In a sense that's what director Neil Jordan and screenwriter Moira Buffini do too, allowing this moody but convoluted century-hopping reinvention of the vampire myth to drift in too many meandering directions before it finally comes together with a semblance of focus in the concluding stretch.
The film is handsomely made, shot by Sean Bobbitt with a blend of gritty naturalism and shadowy storybook fantasy, and a widescreen frame often painted with striking images. It also benefits from Javier Navarette's lush score. But Jordan's return to territory he traveled in "Interview with the Vampire" and to a lesser extent "The Company of Wolves" is sluggish and lacking in bite. It has neither thrills nor suspense.
Buffini makes a promising choice by taking a route closer to that of Anne Rice than of Stephenie Meyer or Charlaine Harris, respectively authors of the "Twilight" and "True Blood" series. But her screenplay for "Byzantium" lacks the clarity, depth of character and robust story sense the writer brought to "Tamara Drewe" and "Jane Eyre." While Buffini adapted the new film from her 2008 young adult play "A Vampire Story," the script has more of a novelistic sweep, attempting to cover too many plot strands across two time periods and struggling to find a consistent tone. Troweling on voiceover at every turn doesn't help.
This film image released by IFC Films shows, from left, Thure Lindhardt, Uri Gavriel, Gemma Arterton and Sam Riley in a scene from "Byzantium." (AP Photo/IFC Films, Patrick Redmond)
Born in 1804 yet forever 16, Eleanor is first seen living on a drab council estate where she endures the pain of her haunted past by writing the story of her life that can never be told, disposing of it page by page. The melancholy teen kills only those who seek the release of death. She displays no visible fangs, just a retractable pointed thumbnail to make the first incision.
First described by Eleanor as her muse, Clara (Gemma Arterton), is the polar opposite of the younger girl. While Eleanor is intensely still, introspective and burdened by secrets, Clara is volatile and trashy. A lap-dancer with a temper, Clara is chased down by a mysterious agent (Thure Lindhardt), who she promptly beheads with a garrote. Obviously not for the first time, she tells Eleanor to pack for a hasty move.