Byzantium (2012)

Byzantium is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. This film from director Neil Jordan (who 18 years prior had directed Interview with the Vampire) is well-rounded and hits exactly the right tone: a balance between life and death, living and hiding. In other words, Byzantium is what Gansel’s We Are the Night should have been, but wasn’t. I find it hard to comprehend that both films have nearly the same rating on imbd. As I write this, Byzantium is standing at 6.5 while We Are the Night is standing at 6.3 – honestly, the difference should be one whole point at the absolute minimum.

It’s not just about the tone….. We Are the Night has some really talented people in its cast, but they are no match for the cast of Byzantium all of which are great – and as always Saoirse Ronan plays in a league of her own.

 

In a weird way, Byzantium is a coming of age story, even though vampires don’t age. It is also a story of love and sacrifice, but I believe at its heart lies a reflection on two opposing ways of life: telling lies or telling the truth. There is no judgement on that matter in this film, I believe, as both have their time and both serve their purpose.

There are very few downsides to this film, and all of them are of less than minor importance:

  • – there are some tiny things that could be interpreted as minor plotholes.
  • – the story is told in two different strands of time, constantly interchanging, with one of them never in chronological order. The film pulls this off without ever being confusing, but still, some people might not like that.
  • – the only use of computer support in this film that I noticed (turning water into blood) looked rather cheap.
  • – the film invents its very own mythical back-story about how vampires are created and why (interesting and well-done), but that always leads to some kind of no-win-situation. If a film gives you an extensive lecture about such a back-story making sure you understand every detail of it, it usually bores you to death and kills the narrative flow. If it doesn’t tell you enough, it can become confusing and things begin to seem arbitrary. Byzantium does, I believe, stay well within the middle-ground on this, but still, some people might find it was too much, and some may say it was not enough.

 

The strengths of this film are its plot, the directing, the scenery, the tone, the atmosphere and the music. And, as mentioned above, the cast, that apart from Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton includes a strong Caleb Landry Jones, and great supporting performances by Maria Doyle Kennedy, Tom Hollander, Sam Riley, Elementary’s Jonny Lee Miller, and Daniel Mays.

 

Bottom line:

If you are happy with a vampire film that is dense in atmosphere but not really action-filled (although there is plenty of blood all around) then Byzantium is a definite must-see. Probably a film you would like to watch alone or with one or two other people, but not in a larger group.

Out of 10, I would give this easily an 8, possibly an 8.5.

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