In London, real estate agent Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) is sent to Transylvania to handle the transactions of Count Dracula (Gary Oldman), leaving behind his young fiancée Mina (Winona Ryder). Jonathan gets held up at the Count’s castle, and Mina longs for the man she loves, whilst her friend Lucy (Sadie Frost) picks between three suitors, the gallant Lord Arthur Holmwood (Cary Elwes), the dashing American Quincey P. Morris (Billy Campbell) and the sweet-but-awkward Dr. Jack Seward (Richard E. Grant). Oh, and Dracula is a vampire.
When I asked for people to recommend me movies from the 1001 list to watch this year, I didn’t expect this one to be amongst those selected, yet Robert my Lambcast co-host picked it for me to watch, despite it having been removed from the list some time ago, and as far as I know never put back on again in future revisions. As adaptations of the traditional vampire story go it isn’t my favourite (that’s currently Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht) but it does still have a lot going for it, most notably a largely great cast.
And when I say “largely,” I mean pretty much everyone who isn’t named Keanu Reeves. I cannot fathom in the slightest why he was even considered to play a role in a period drama in which he’d have to put on an English accent – I had the same trouble with his casting in Dangerous Liaisons – and here he’s awful. Just terrible. In every way. But I told myself I wouldn’t fixate on just how appalling his accent is, so I’m going to leave Reeves alone and focus instead on the joy that is Gary Oldman’s Dracula, which is awesome.
It’s not a role to be taken lightly. He has to make an impact, ans that’s exactly what Oldman does, assisted by some award-winning costumes and make-up, and over the guise of three different incarnations. Oldman plays him as a pre-vampirification general who curses himself by going insane at his wife’s death and attacks the church in vengeance, then as an old man vampire, and also as a transformed, younger version, plus a few more monstrous depictions along the way, and every single time Oldman is terrific. As much as anyone ever bemoans the lack of awards recognition for the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and the like, at least he’s had several nominations, whereas the far-superior Oldman has received just the one, and in a year when Al Pacino certainly didn’t deserve his for Scent of a Woman, I think there was room to shed some light on Oldman.
Winona Ryder is good, if a little insipid as Mina Harker, not quite selling the events that occur to her towards the end of the film, but her scenes are made for with the inclusion of the suitors, who add some much needed levity to the proceedings. Cary Elwes channels Errol Flynn in all his dashing glory, whilst Richard E. Grant can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned. Anthony Hopkins was a little disappointing as Van Helsing. He’s clearly having fun, but I felt a lot of his work had been cut from the finished product. In fact, the whole film felt full of holes. I know the Dracula mythology is well known and well covered over the history of cinema, but if this is your introduction to it then I feel you’ll be quite lost at times, particularly in the final act, when it becomes unclear as to what is going on and why, particularly with Mina, and why Keanu Reeves’ hair keeps changing from black to grey and back again.
Sadly the messy plot structure and uneven pacing (Dracula makes it to London before even the halfway point, and there isn’t enough plot present to tide this over the two hour mark) make this a Choose Life for me. It looks gorgeous (I loved the armour Oldman wore as a warrior, red and ridged as though his muscles have burst from his skin), and I particularly approved of the work done with shadows, but that and some good performances wasn’t enough to make me recommend this.
Choose Life 6/10