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This version of Dracula is closely based on Bram Stoker's classic novel of the same name. A young lawyer (Jonathan Harker) is assigned to a gloomy village in the mists of eastern Europe. He is captured and imprisoned by the undead vampire Dracula, who travels to London, inspired by a photograph of Harker's betrothed, Mina Murray. In Britain, Dracula begins a reign of seduction and terror, draining the life from Mina's closest friend, Lucy Westenra. Lucy's friends gather together to try to drive Dracula away. Written by
The most famous vampire in the history of literature and film is brought graphically to life in `Bram Stoker's Dracula,' directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and starring Gary Oldman as the Count from Transylvania. Working from a screenplay (by James Victor Hart) that is a faithful adaptation of the novel, Coppola takes an artistic approach to the material and creates some startling and effective images-- some quite intense and erotic-- to tell the story of Count Dracula and his world of the undead. Unsettling at times, and often shocking, the film is mesmerizing and thoroughly engrossing, delivered with a full palette of colors and shadows that form a backdrop against which the characters so vividly emerge to play out the drama. It's a visual and emotional feast that is satisfying in every respect, beginning with a brief history of Dracula and the circumstances of his life that ultimately allied him with the forces of darkness and evil. Initially, the casting of Gary Oldman as Dracula seemed inauspicious and ill advised; in retrospect, the choice of Oldman was inspired. Though many actors have done the role before and since (Schreck, Lugosi and Lee, just to name a few), Oldman manages to make the character uniquely his own, with a nuanced performance infused with depth and acuity. Even when delivering famous, oft quoted lines from previously filmed versions of the story (Lugosi's `Children of the night, what music they make,' for instance), Oldman makes them spontaneous and fresh, with a conversational tone that makes you feel as if you're hearing them for the first time. His presence is self-assured and menacing, which makes the character strong and intimidating, and you sense his longevity and the dark wisdom afforded him by his many years of existence. There is a fastidiousness about Oldman's methods of inhabiting a character that makes you wonder if there is anything as an actor that is beyond his grasp. At this point, I would think not. As Van Helsing, Anthony Hopkins puts his personal stamp on a well known character as well. His portrayal of the famous professor is zealous and lively, and touched with an eccentricity that makes him an interesting and welcome presence in the film. Winona Ryder, too, gives a believable performance as Mina, a somewhat emotionally challenging role she addresses with the restraint demanded of her by the character. With her dark, winsome looks and natural intensity she is perfect for the part, and displays a femininity that contrasts well with the overt sexuality of Dracula's three `brides.' And Tom Waits gives a memorable performance as the mad, insect-eater, Renfield, as does Sadie Frost, as Lucy, Mina's young and nubile best friend who unwittingly falls prey to Dracula's dark powers. The single member of the cast who seems to struggle a bit with characterization is Keanu Reeves, as Jonathan Harker; he gives a passable performance, but fails to ever get a firm grasp of the character. Still, he has an engaging presence and, though lacking depth, his portrayal is at least credible enough to maintain the continuity of the film. The supporting cast includes Richard E. Grant (Dr. Seward), Cary Elwes (Lord Holmwood) and Bill Campbell (Quincey). Exacting in detail and imaginatively rendered, Coppola's `Bram Stoker's Dracula,' is an impressive, memorable film. By boldly juxtaposing images and shadows, embracing the innate sensuality of the vampire, and blending it all together so seamlessly, Coppola has taken his film, not only to the zenith of the horror genre, but beyond. It's a journey into the regions beyond the known, wherein the forces of darkness thrive and survive; a cinematic experience you'll not soon forget, courtesy of Coppola, a superlative cast, and the magic of the movies. I rate this one 9/10.
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