Bram Stoker's Dracula
1992, R, 128 min. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Starring Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves, Sadie Frost, Tom Waits.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 20, 1992
Coppola's version of Dracula has been one of the most eagerly anticipated films of the last ten years. Critics and fans alike have been positively drooling all over themselves waiting to see what the director of the Godfather trilogy would do with Stoker's source material, and now that they've seen it, reactions have been as polarized as day and night. There's no argument that this new take on the very old story is deliciously fresh; Coppola and writer James V. Hart have unfailingly followed Stoker's sanguinary romance nearly to the letter, including scenes never before tackled and deleting extraneous pap from the legions of cinematic forerunners. The film opens with sound and fury and bluster and even more sound (Coppola's sonorously creative use of audio in the film may very well nab him an Oscar -- watching this in LucasFilm's new Dolby Digital Stereo is downright cathartic), as we see Vlad Dracul returning triumphant from the Crusades only to discover his one true love driven to suicide by the Turks. Enraged, the nobleman renounces Christ and thereby becomes the vampire. It's a wonderful opening, and Oldman's portrayal of this passionate, bitter figure is excellent. Not so Keanu Reeves, who, as estate agent Jonathan Harker, seems to have wandered in from the set of Bill and Ted's Transylvanian Adventure, his face registering a perpetually glazed look of befuddlement. Winona Ryder, seemingly the perfect choice for Dracula's obscure object of desire, Mina Harker, is better by far than Reeves, but it's Anthony Hopkins' Van Helsing that really lights up the screen. Part Freud, part Cotton Mather, Van Helsing is the marginally mad antithesis of Dracula -- the perfect foil, all manic chuckles and graveyard humor. Interestingly, Coppola has eschewed state-of-the-art special effects in favor of a panoply of archaic film-school tricks -- reversing the film, multiple exposures, playing with the shutter speed -- that give his Dracula a stylized, almost hyperreal clarity and a wonderfully singular weirdness. It's unlike any Dracula since Murnau's 1922 Nosferatu (from which Coppola has liberally borrowed many techniques), and as such, it's a stunning, gloriously outre achievment, and never mind the fact that this Jonathan Harker looks like he'd probably be more at home in Malibu than Victorian England.