Friday, June 3, 2016

INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (1994) - ***½


Rated R for vampire violence and gore, and for sexuality
Running time: 123 min.
Release date: November 11, 1994


For decades, cinema has depicted vampires as gleefully evil beings, donned in a cape and tuxedo. They have machinations toward ruling the world, or at least bringing over as many of the living as they can with them. The exceptions to this rule are rare, as seen in the silent classic Nosferatu, or even Bram Stoker's Dracula. Then the Twilight series came out and we romanticized the vampire; turned vampires into something we swooned over. Women hoped that, one day, a vampire would sweep them off their feet and carry them away to their world. Interview With the Vampire, directed by Neil Jordan and written by Anne Rice, based off her own novel, does not make vampires into truly evil beings, but rather beings who attempt to make sense of their fates, and try to survive in their lonely world; it romanticizes vampires a little by making them into good-looking people, but it also reminds us that their world is not necessarily one we want to be swept away into.

Christian Slater is a reporter named Daniel Molloy. When the film opens, he is meeting with a man named Louis (Brad Pitt), who claims to be a vampire. Molloy records the conversation as Louis begins his tale in the year 1791 in Louisiana. Louis was a plantation owner who lost his wife in childbirth. Grieving over his loss, he lives a life of debauchery, hoping to find death so he could be reunited with his wife. A man named Lestat (Tom Cruise) has been following his moves, and offers him the opportunity to live as a vampire. Louis accepts and Lestat wastes no time in biting him and offering him his own blood. Lestat shows Louis how to quench the hunger he now feels, by killing people from all walks of life. Louis does not have the same lust for killing that Lestat has, however, choosing to feast on animals such as rats and dogs. Feeling that he is cursed for eternity, Louis attempts to burn himself alive in his plantation home, but Lestat saves him and takes him to New Orleans. 

They come across a young girl, Claudia (Kirtsen Dunst), who has just lost her mother to a plague. Louis takes pity upon the girl and bites her, but it is Lestat who turns her into a vampire. Claudia becomes a surrogate daughter to Lestat and Louis, as they become "one big happy family", according to Lestat. This may have been an attempt by Lestat to keep Louis by his side. Claudia turns out to be much more of a killer than Louis could ever be. Years later, Claudia laments that she will never grow up to have a woman's body, as she is eternally in the body of a child. She comes to resent Lestat and plots to do away with him. This leads to one of the few action scenes in the entire film, but also one of the more outrageously over-the-top scenes.

Louis and Claudia sail to Europe, as Louis hopes to find answers to his questions. By chance, he encounters Armand (Antonio Banderas) and a band of vampires that perform vampire theater for humans, who sometimes leave the theater in a state of shock or disgust. The vampires learn of the betrayal of Lestat, which is a rule of the vampire code, apparently: Thou shalt not kill other vampires. Armand wants Louis to join him as a companion, while Claudia wants Louis to give her a mother-figure, knowing that Louis is about to leave her. This all leads to some powerful scenes involving tragedy and revenge.

The best praise that can be given to this film is that it is technically proficient. Director Neil Jordan has constructed a story that takes characters that some would consider unconventional, even deviant, and has given them a struggle that is sympathetic. There is plenty of homoeroticism in this film, but there is also a lesser dose of straight eroticism. It's not a distraction, however, as these characters thirst for companionship due to the fact that they never grow old or die. Anne Rice's screenplay is dark and brooding but also sometimes overwrought with melodrama. Lestat is a character that takes pleasure in the hunt for fresh blood; Tom Cruise plays the role with a gleam in his eye. He appears to be miscast when we first meet him, but we watch him grow into the role. Brad Pitt's Louis is a depressed, sorrowful soul who laments his fate. Pitt's portrayal of Louis is less-than inspired but adequate. Kirsten Dunst was a revelation as Claudia. Here she shows wisdom and age beyond her youthful appearance. Her performance is arguably the best in the film.

Philippe Rousselot's cinematography contains lantern-lined streets, casting shadows in the dark. The art direction and set decoration by Dante Ferreti and Francesca Lo Schiavo was nominated for an Academy Award. From expansive Louisiana plantations to the vampire catacombs in the Paris underworld, this film just looks tremendous. The costumes designed by Sandy Powell and the make-up by Stan Winston just give life to these characters that have no life. From a technical standpoint, Interview With the Vampire is a beautiful and fascinating looking film.

With the luscious and dark visuals, the wide-angle shots of loneliness and darkness, Interview With the Vampire overcomes a story that is sometimes lifeless. The cast makes the best of a screenplay that could have become very hammy with different actors. The closing credits are accompanied by a horribly cheesy cover of "Sympathy for the Devil" by Guns N'Roses. It's almost as if this most serious film about the lonely and conflicted life of a vampire was not to be taken seriously. The ending scene most certainly contributed to that theory.

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