“Do you believe in destiny? That even the powers of time can be altered for a single purpose? That the luckiest man who walks on this earth is the one who finds… true love?”
After Vlad Dracula (Gary Oldman) returns from war to find his beloved Elisabeta has killed herself after being given false news of his death, he renounces God, drinks blood pouring from a stone cross, and swears to rise from the grave to avenge her death. All in all, a pretty dramatic way to open a pretty dark love story.
Centuries later, solicitor Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) travels to Transylvania on behalf of his colleague, Renfield, who has gone insane and has been committed to an asylum. It’s in Transylvania that he meets Count Dracula. When Dracula sees a photograph of Harker’s fiance, Mina (Winona Ryder), he believes her to be the reincarnation of his lost Elisabeta. Dracula leaves Harker for death by his brides and travels to England to find Mina.
For the most part, Coppola’s take on the iconic vampire story is a good one. It’s gorgeous atmospheric, and quite campy. Coppola does a great including the book’s narrative, which is told solely through correspondence and diary entries but it felt like the movie depended heavily on visual imagery and frenzied camerawork than the actual story. I suppose that’s not entirely a bad thing, because the gothic imagery is lush and holds your attention. The movie itself is so pretty that you can almost overlook the questionable acting.
Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins carry this movie and then some. Oldman is so deliciously fantastic as the lovelorn, bloodthirsty count. He is clearly having fun with the role and he absolutely nails the subtle, seductive charm that makes Dracula so appealing. Hopkins is pure cheese (in a good way!) as the vampire slayer, Van Helsing. The movie truly shines when these two are on the screen.
I’m not so sure about the rest of the cast. They were fine, for the most part. Sadie Frost is alluring as Lucy Westenra and Tom Waits gives it his all as the insect-eating Renfield. But Lucy’s suitors, played by Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, and Billy Campbell, felt interchangeable to me in terms of depth.
Winona Ryder was fine but I didn’t feel much chemistry between her and Gary Oldman. Their scenes made me slightly uncomfortable. Oldman felt so much older and worldly than the wide-eyed innocent Ryder, and maybe that was the point, but it just didn’t work for me. I felt like I was watching someone’s creepy older uncle hit on a much younger woman. Is that odd? I would like to say Ryder had plenty of chemistry with Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker, but what can I say about Reeves? He’s an amazing person and there are plenty of movies where I think he does a great job, but he is so horribly miscast here. His English accent rivals Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood accent as one of the worst I’ve ever heard. His performance is stilted and he seems out of his depth here, especially when he’s acting opposite Hopkins and Oldman. Harker’s character lacked personality and the proper determination needed to save his own wife from an undead monster who believes she’s his soulmate.
That being said, all flaws aside, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is certainly worthy of a watch, especially if you want a campy horror movie that doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. If nothing else, watch it for Oldman’s performance. He manages to make Dracula so much more than a creepy shapeshifter who “vants” to suck your blood while wearing all black. The movie is a delight on the eyes, but I really wanted a more visceral experience.