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Movie review: ‘Byzantium’

Posted 3:00pm on Thursday, Jul. 25, 2013

R (bloody violence, sexual content, strong language); 118 min.

Byzantium is a very different sort of vampire drama for director Neil Jordan, whose undead were so fabulously rich and fashion-forward in Interview With the Vampire so many years ago.

This vision of the immortal has more of an Irish fable quality, complete with swirling mists, choppy seas and the grit of hard lives.

From the lyrical and deeply sad journal entries of 16-year-old Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) to the tricks turned by her mother, Clara (Gemma Arterton), to keep money in their pockets, there is real suffering in their existence both before and after that dark gift. As one expects from a species that survives on the blood of others, there is a good deal of gore, from waterfalls that run blood-red every time a new vampire is made to the necks that are pierced when they feed.

But there is real humanity in Byzantium, too. Screenwriter Moira Buffini brings a worldly authenticity to the characters in a way that those most famous of movie vampires, Twilight’s charmed Bella and Edward, never did.

Like most of Jordan’s work, Byzantium is saturated with mood and beautifully shot.

For the director, who has been busy writing and directing the intrigues of Jeremy Irons and The Borgias on TV, Byzantium is an unexpected choice for his return to long-form.

Though the movie has little of the intellectual heft of Michael Collins or The Crying Game, the filmmaker, always so good with damaged lives, brings more emotional depth than we normally get in vampire films.

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— Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times

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