Rating: Dark, violent and extraordinarily sexy, Ms. Arterton and Ms. Ronan make compelling vampires.
Byzantium had my attention from the simple fact that it was directed by the Neil Jordan. He is the master of embracing a movie filled with dark thoughts and bizarre consequences, and nothing will keep me away from his periodic films.
As an example, think of Mona Lisa (1986); The Crying Game (1992); Michael Collins (1996); The Butcher Boy (1997); The End of the Affair (1999) and Breakfast on Pluto (2005). His characters continually head in unanticipated directions while running from a hidden past, and Mr. Jordan always creates a spectacle that you cannot forget.
With Byzantium, he revisits the dark side as he previously did with Interview with a Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994). Only now his two vampires are women, in this case the incredibly talented pair of Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan. They may be playing vampires who are mother and daughter, but I must confess that this would never stop me in real life from running off with mom and adopting sis.
In this case, Ms. Arterton and Ms. Ronan play Clara and Eleanor, vampires who have been existing for over 200 years. However, these are not vampires with pointy teeth, but with a lengthening fingernail on their right thumb that spells doom for unknown prey.
Clara has supported the two as an extraordinarily attractive prostitute whenever they need money. She is a hell of a lay as long as you are not an insidious SOB, in which case you are not likely to get your pants back on before having your blood removed.
As for Eleanor, she is but a 16-year old girl haunted by her past. She continually wants to write and tell her life story, but she knows that is forbidden. She survives by seeking out the elderly who are dying and are simply wishing for a peaceful death. Attracted to a young boy dying from leukemia, she kills with a lovely sense of feeling and heartbreak.
What drives the film is its continual flashbacks to when the two became vampires in the early 1800’s. Ms. Arterton, dying of consumption as she is forced to live as a concubine, was able to trick a devilish customer in order to find immortality. She was forced to do the same thing for her daughter, Ms. Ronan, who would have died after being infected by the same suitor who was looking to get even.
Mr. Jordan handles the encounters of our vampires with customary class and style. As Ms. Arterton previously showed in this year’s underrated Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, she is capable of kicking the crap out of any male opponent, armed or unarmed. As for Ms. Ronan, no young actress working today exceeds her ability to get down and dirty and still survive. She was brilliant in both The Way Back (2010) and Hanna (2011) and you really should hunt down both films.
In the end, the biggest battle faced by our female vampires is the fact that they have snuck into a males only supernatural order. In a sense, they would have had the same chance at being accepted by their male comrades as they would getting admitted to Augusta years ago to play golf in The Masters.
Come to think of it, the old boys at Augusta would have benefitted from a sharp thumbnail stuck up their sanctimonious butts. Where are our girls when we need them?