Bram Stoker's Dracula Reviews
Edit: Wow, I originally rated this 4.5 stars. What was I thinking? I recently rewatched this and have had to downgrade to 3.5. I had it in my mind that Keanu Reeves was the only bad actor in this but really quite a few of them are terrible. Though, to be fair, the characters are mostly idiots anyway. And the effects really haven't aged well. Still fun though.
Plot: In 1897, young lawyer Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) travels to gloomy Transylvania to close a deal on 10 London properties purchased by Count Dracula (Gary Oldman). However, the Count happens upon a photograph of Harker's betrothed Mina Murray (Winona Ryder) who strongly resembles the undead vampire's lover, Elisabeta, who died centuries ago. Inspired by the photo, the Count imprisons Harker and sets forth for London on a reign of seduction and terror to find his lost love.
The Godfather's, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now are considered some of the cinematic greats and just a few from the resumé of Francis Ford Coppola at a time when he was at the forefront of filmmaking. However, when Bram Stoker's Dracula was released it came when, the once great, Coppola had fallen on harder times and he was unable to recreate the quality that his name had become synonymous with. Many would even claim that Dracula continued his poor run of projects but as a reimagining, it's actually quite a stunning piece of work.
One thing that can't be said about the film is that it lacks style or is anything less than ambitious and hugely extravagant. It's obvious that it's Coppola intention to provide a fantastically visual experience and if the film is to be judged on that alone, then it's a massive success. Production designer Thomas Sanders really earns his crust in his recreation of this timeless story and he's helped, immeasurably, by Scorsese's regular cinematographer, Michael Ballhaus as every movie artifice in the book is utilised to beautifully, hyper-stylised effect.
Although faithful to Stoker's original source material, narratively, the film has holes bigger than anything an old Transylvanian could sink into your neck. However, on this occasion, it doesn't really matter such is Coppola's ability to sweep you up in a romantic, Victorian love story while adding a much needed humanity to Dracula's character and motivations. This isn't just a generic horror tale involving coffins, stakes and garlic, this cuts across each characters personal journey; from lovers Mina Murray and Jonathan Harker to vampire hunter, Abraham Van Helsing, with each of them afforded equal and ample screetime. That said, the least said about some of the performances, the better: Winona Ryder is an actress that I've never taken to so anything she delivers doesn't really work for me and as Harker, Keanu Reeves is plain woeful. Reeves is no thespian and often comes in for criticism but this is, unequivocally, the worst he's ever been and his accent alone is so cringeworthingly bad that it's hard not to feel embarrassed for him. To be fair to him, though, you get the felling that even Reeves knows he's out of his depth. Meanwhile, Anthony Hopkins doesn't fare much better as Van Helsing. Normally, Hopkins delivers strong work but he absolutely hams it up here with another poor grasp on an accent that he simply can't get his tongue around. On the periphery, there's an overindulgent Richard E. Grant, an overzealous Sadie Frost and a very entertaining Tom Waits as the deranged, insect eating R.M. Renfield. Anyone familiar with Waits' ability to assume different personas in his musical work will see that this is a perfect role for him. When all is said and done, however, the majority of the meat on the films' bones rests with the leading man and Gary Oldman really delivers the goods. He's absolutely superb. Of all the main performers, Oldman is the only one who seems to understand what the tone of the film should be. He knows when he's required to crank it up or play it down and his range as an actor is on full display. He, at once, makes Dracula a broken-hearted romantic while also capturing a genuinely sinister and foreboding presence.
With an abundance of atmosphere and visual mastery, Coppola lays the old cliched vampire to rest and ressurects the gothic tale in true creative style. It's certainly not without its flaws but you've got to admire Coppola's chutzpah to do things vastly different from any other adaptation. His handle on mood is masterful while his composition is breathtakingly imaginative.