Bram Stoker's Dracula

Bram Stoker's Dracula ★★½

Coppola carries so much good will from his early career masterworks that every time I sit down with one of his later endeavors I find myself desperately wanting, hoping, that it will turn out to be somehow revealed as a hidden classic—even if I’ve seen it before, even if I know better. He reminds me of a band that turned out groundbreaking, timeless classics in their twenties and then went on to a long career of raising and dashing hopes with just okay later releases.

This is “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” It’s a bold, ambitious, vigorous swing at reimagining the classic horror tale as an explosion of aesthetic invention. There’s hardly a scene where Coppola is sitting still, hardly a scene that concludes before the director is rushing along to his next scene, his next ideas. It’s never less than compelling to watch and feels like a declarative statement of Coppola’s powers as a stylist, but it’s also just not a very good movie.

The mixed bag of performances is one major handicap. Gary Oldman somehow holds it together with his over-the-top commitment to ham, but Keanu Reeves and  Winona Ryder and even Anthony Hopkins are lost in their terrible accents and lost in the overwrought production design. It’s too bad because James Hart’s story, which undergirds the original narrative with an “across oceans of time” romantic subplot, is actually conceptually terrific. It’s just that the script itself, and its execution, are so busy being formally inventive that the end result is just not substantively cohesive. By the end, Coppola has taken so much artistic license with how characters behave and even how they appear, that it’s just not clear at all why they are doing things, or even what they’re thinking. 

In truth this movie is probably just ten or twenty percent away from being truly terrific. It’s not far, but that gap feels enormous.

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