Judge Norman Short throws the book at this mild-mannered vampire flick. It stars Jude Law...how bad can it be?
Handsome. Seductive. Deadly.
This stimulating, sometimes gripping but uneven film defies easy description; it might be called a serial killer/romance/vampire film. Jude Law (The Talented Mr. Ripley) goes deep into this complex character who drinks blood like a vampire but walks in the daylight. He is both more and less than human. The film is unsettling, but rich in story and character, bordering on but not quite crossing the line into pretentiousness. The film was originally titled The Wisdom of Crocodiles, which seems a more appropriate name. If you want to be challenged by an unusual piece of cinema, then give this new DVD from Miramax a look.
Facts of the Case
Jude Law plays Steven Grlscz (pronounced Grolsch), a troubled young man with a way with women. He easily seduces them, but things never last, because he ends up drinking their blood. After one such escapade, the police get involved in the person of Inspector Healy (Timothy Spall, Topsy-Turvy), who believes he is the killer. But Steven is not all bad; in fact, he had once saved the life of the victim and later saves the Inspector who is assaulted by a gang while tailing him.
Things get confusing, as it is apparent that Grlscz is not a typical vampire; he holds a job as a medical researcher, has no fangs, and walks in the daylight. But it is also apparent he is more than human; he can do things like draw a picture with one hand while writing with the other and move faster than is humanly possible. He is also less than human in a way. Much is made in the film about the different levels and complexities in our brains; we are part human, part mammal, and part reptile in our neurological makeup. It seems Steven has far too much reptile in him, and is following his instincts to feed. He needs to feed on blood because he lacks something within his; and only blood charged by the emotion of love can truly help him. His prior victims have held some love but also other conflicting emotions that he has taken into himself with the blood, and his body is falling apart. Now enter Anne Levels, a structural engineer who sparks his interest, and later his love. She could be the answer to his physical problems, but he must kill her if he wants to find out.
This is not a typical vampire film to say the least. There is relatively little blood, only a bit of gratuitous violence, and a lot of philosophy for what could be simply a suspense thriller about a serial killer. Director Po-Chih Leong was educated in philosophy in England but made his films in Hong Kong prior to this, and there are elements of each. The relationships exist on an intellectual level as well as physical and romantic in the case of Anne, and even the killer and the cop hunting him can take a walk and discuss the nature of good and evil along the way. The Hong Kong aspect comes when the gang first attacks the police inspector, and later draws bead on Steven and Anne. Again he proves he is more than human as he deals with the multiple attackers. It may have been a bit gratuitous, but it is only one flash of action and is tastefully done.
The relationship with Anne (Elina Loewensohn, Nadja) is even more complex. He begins with his usual flair to gain her interest, but finds himself ever more drawn to her. He is confronted with the choice of dying if he cannot have her blood, or killing the woman he loves to continue living. There is great chemistry between the two romantic leads, if you can consider the killer such. Both Jude Law and Elina Loewensohn show a depth and breadth of emotion in this intelligently written story.
Technically, the film is beautifully and artistically done. The cinematography is superb, the editing toes the line between suspense and frustration, and the settings do a good job of defying location. You realize you are probably in Britain, but the story could have been told anywhere. There is a lot to like on the artistic level, and I'm not easily swayed by film as pure art.
Miramax has done a good and workmanlike job on the DVD presentation of this little seen film. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is quite clean and sharp, but colors are muted, perhaps by intent. The red of blood (when you see any) is vivid enough. Flesh tones are pallid, again by intent as Jude Law is playing a vampire of sorts, and Elina Loewensohn is also naturally pale. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is more than adequate, but only breaks out of its dialogue-driven state with the somewhat hypnotic musical score. Extra content is slight, with a short featurette being the main focus. It lasts about eight minutes and tries to explain what the film was attempting to say. A trailer, focusing more on the suspense thriller aspects, is the only other bonus feature pertaining to the film. Bonus trailers for The Crow: Salvation, Confessions of Sorority Girls, Scary Movie, eXistenZ, and Ultimate Scream Box Set are added under "Sneak Peeks." I'd find it hard to believe the same person would like Immortality and all of those other films.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
All isn't wonderful for the casual viewer, however. More than once I found myself a bit confused and wanting clarification. The premise of blood being charged with emotion took a little bit of willful suspension of disbelief. And I kept having the nagging question: "Why doesn't he just get a transfusion from the girl?" While I am a fan of the Anne Rice style of androgynous vampire with a despairing soul, at times I thought the film took the concept a bit too far; becoming somewhat maudlin in the process. While the story delves deeply into philosophical issues, sometimes it doesn't follow through and was a bit too vague in execution. The negatives could be partially overcome by subsequent, more careful viewings. These negatives are outweighed by the film's many strengths, which combine beauty and intelligence with a haunting and suspenseful tale.
If you're looking for something different, something to make you think, and don't mind perhaps having to watch the film more than once to divine its secrets, then give this a rental or pick it up. Fans of Jude Law will not be disappointed, as his vivid portrayal of a unique character is memorable.
I find all involved to be innocent, except for Jude Law's character of course, and perhaps his path to redemption will find itself without the need for a court.
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