Having secured the title rights to the name “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, Francis Ford Coppola set out to bring his vision of the Dracula legend to unlife, the first straight ‘Dracula’ adaptation for thirteen years.
Believing the fiancée of young solicitor Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) to be the reincarnation of his dead wife, centuries-old Count Dracula (Gary Oldman) travels to England intent on seducing her and bringing the loneliness of his immortality to an end.
Of course, the title isn’t the only thing Coppola takes from Richard Matheson’s 1974 screenplay, as the film leans heavily into the historical figure of Vlad The Impaler as Dracula’s origin, opening with a historical and almost Ralph Bakshi-esque rendition of a bloody battle against an insurmountable Turkish army. Dracula is victorious but a bitter and defeated Turkish army manage one final blow against him, tricking his beloved wife that he has been slain and causing her to take her own life. Renouncing his faith, Dracula desecrates the chapel of his castle and is cursed to eternal darkness.
Oldman is, of course, superb in the role of Dracula, in this iteration much more of a tragic, heartsick warrior, corrupted by a life of undying bloodlust. At least the Count has kept himself occupied by trying out some iconic new looks for the Vampire on-the-go, most memorably the double-bouffant headdress lampooned by “The Simpsons” and “Hotel Transylvania 2” amongst others.
The costumes, sumptuous as they are, make a huge contribution to the operatic theatrically of the film, with the production design a triumph of dark gothic horror. It’s a highly sexualised telling of the story but there’s a bluntness to its eroticism, too much style and not enough substance thanks to some odd casting choices. For every bravura element of filmmaking, there’s a display of acting so wooden you could break a piece off and save everyone a lot of trouble by simply staking old fang face there and then.
Keanu Reeves is woefully miscast and all the more so when he’s up against Oldman and Hopkins (as Van Helsing) taking great big bites out of the spectacular scenery and chewing it up with gusto. He frequently seems lost and out of his depth and his obvious stunt casting is a serious blight on the film. Winona Ryder fares a little better but at least has the excuse of her difficult working relationship with Oldman to explain her occasional lapses.
Thankfully, Coppola packs the screen with visual splendour and the dedication to in-camera effects work is laudable and largely successful, while also being a nice nod to the movie’s period setting at the dawn of cinema.
It’s a handsome retelling of the story if somewhat oddly dated by the casting of a few too many ‘hot right now’ cast members but the production is top notch and the score is spectacular as well. There’s a welcome sense of finality to the story, too, as Coppola seems determined to restore a dignity to the character of Dracula he clearly feels has been drained dry over the years and he closes out the story in such a definitive fashion that there is really no way this Dracula could ever be brought back like so many of his predecessors have been. This is a movie which not only finds pathos and sympathy in the torment of the centuries-old monster but is willing to grant him clemency and eternal rest.