Having writtten about "Company of Wolves" recently, I thought it might be about time to revisit director Neil Jordan's later flirtation with the horror genre, although this was a flick that left me strangely vacant after my first and only previous viewing. Not that this movie is a horror film in any real sense of the word; its history of a vampire's long and endless life is really more the story of the ennui of immortality, rather than its bloody trappings.
With a screenplay by Anne Rice and adapted from her own novel which finally reached the screen after years of abortive attempts, the author was originally violently opposed to the casting of Tom Cruise as the main protagonist Lestat. She later ate humble pie and praised his casting. I am less convinced that a Cruise with long blonde hair is completely successful as the cruel and decadent vampire of the book. He tries hard to overcome his normal screen persona but never seems quite at home in the role. Possibly because I have never been a fan, I welcomed his character's being "killed off" at about the halfway mark. However, no such luck, and he reappears subsequently, most annoyingly at the hastily tacked on and disappointing end to the film.
More successful, I think, was Brad Pitt as Louis in a relatively early role, where his pretty-boy looks marry well with those of a pale and world-weary vampire. Much has been made of the homoerotic relationship of the two male leads, but this is overstated and only their feeding has any erotic resonance. More interesting are the differences between them as Lestat's rampant and amoral bloodlust is contrasted with Louis' shreds of humanity and reluctant acceptance of his fate. When he does use his power to create a new companion in his endless eternity, he chooses a young girl, played remarkably maturely by the then 12-year old Kirsten Dunst. She becomes a 'daughter' to the two reluctant companions but begins to rue her fate more and more as she realises that she is becoming a woman forever trapped in the body of a child.
With Cruise temporarily out of the picture, Pitt and Dunst travel the world looking unsuccessfully for more of their kind and for answers to the questions of their existence. They find no kindred spirits until they discover a nest of vampires in Paris, led by a charismatic Antonio Banderas and his mischievous sidekick (Jordan regular Stephen Rea). The setting of their catacombs is one of the more memorable examples of set decoration in cinema, but it becomes the stage for Dunst's destruction and Pitt's wild fury.
The film is bookended by Pitt telling his sad odyssey to reporter Christian Slater, who took over the role from the recently deceased River Phoenix. It felt good to see Slater at a point in his career when he still retained his acting skills and charm, rather than the faded has-been of later roles.
In conclusion, I think I warmed to this movie more readily this time around. I found the acting more or less acceptable, the literary quality of the story absorbing if just a little draggy at times, the costuming and staging artfully conceived, and the music just about right for the action. I may still have some trouble with Cruise, but the film's good qualities overcome even that.