Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. With Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Waits, Richard E. Grant and Sadie Frost.
‘Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula’ – that’s what this movie interpretation of Bram Stoker’s celebrated novel should be called. Written in 1897, Stoker’s book was way ahead of its time in the way it spun its narrative web via the diary entries of the novels cast of characters. Furthermore, it was shockingly dark and erotic, with a deeply sinister edge and a subtext about men rediscovering what it is to be ‘true men‘. Through James V. Hart’s screenplay, Coppola re-arranges a lot.
Through great use of light, striking art design and some beautiful period detail, Coppola creates a menacingly atmospheric tone. Just like in the influential 1922 Dracula film, Nosferatu, Coppola employs creepy shadows and all manner of ‘things that go bump‘ to achieve a sense of ominous malevolence in the early stages.
As Count Dracula, Gary Oldman is a resounding success. Oldman has such deep reservoirs of talent and authenticity, that he can help you believe in just about anything. Outside of the pages of the book, his performance is my favourite, most dynamic take on Dracula.
While Oldman mesmerises in the titular role, sadly, Keanu Reeves is ill-equipped to play Jonathan Harker, one of the book’s most significant characters. The young Canadian actor looks constipated in the role, seemingly fighting the inclination to slip into the air-headed vernacular of Bill & Ted. Other characters seem diluted from the book – Richard E. Grant is flimsy and forgettable as Dr Seward while Cary Elwes is another miscast actor in an important role. Thankfully, Sadie Frost is a delight as Lucy, while Winona Ryder is fine as Mina. As the lunatic of the piece, Tom Waits is excellent, as is Anthony Hopkins as Dr Van Helsing, wrong-footing the audience with an eccentricity that serves the overall strangeness of the piece.
I don’t love it as much as I could have, and the uneven editing intermittently irritates – the boat sequence deserved so much more than an brief montage sequence. As Stoker’s book is such a classic, the omissions and detours from it are likely to be reason enough for many to pour scorn on this interpretation of the legend. For my two-penneth, the film stands on its own as a haunting love story, set against a backdrop of the drama of the book. 4/5