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Boardwalk Vampire

Saoirse Ronan makes a perfect bloodsucker in Byzantium.

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Saoirse Ronan in Byzantium.  

Enthusiastically recommended: Almost two decades after his uneven Interview With the Vampire, the Irish-born fabulist Neil Jordan returns to the realm of bloodsuckers with Byzantium. The movie is gorgeous, mesmerizing, poetic; the lyricism actually heightened by harsh jets of gore. Saoirse Ronan is Eleanor, a young-looking but very old nomadic vampire who drinks the blood of the elderly: They receive her gratefully, as an angel of deliverance. She has a burning drive to write and share her life story—unlike her hottie Cockney guardian, Clara (Gemma Arterton), who has an equally fierce drive to keep their rapacious private lives private.

Ronan makes an ideal vampire: Her face, with its multiple planes, is as austere as a death mask, but her incandescent blue-gray eyes signal the soul within. Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt creates a Gothic night-world out of neon, while Jordan and writer Moira Buffini weave stories within stories: Every vampire has a tale to tell. An extended excerpt from the Hammer film Dracula: Prince of Darkness clues you into the movie’s ­revisionist theme: Monks hammer an enormous stake through the heart of a writhing, nightgown-clad Barbara ­Shelley. The females here assert their right to indulge their appetites—however unholy. They won’t be bound by the other gender’s twisted myths. As is Jordan’s wont, romanticism finally trumps horror, which might leave nihilist genre fiends unsatisfied. For others, these female vampires will bestow the kiss of life.

Tobias Lindholm’s A Hijacking distills the story of the takeover of a Danish cargo ship by Somali pirates into a series of grueling financial negotiations between an onboard English-speaking go-between (Abdihakin Asgar) and the Copenhagen CEO (Søren Malling) of the company that owns the ship. The CEO is not an entirely ruthless capitalist: It’s the cracks in his hard façade and the indications of his inner struggle—allegiance to his board versus the human cost of prolonging the negotiations over several months—that keep you riveted. Asgar’s negotiator, meanwhile, keeps you thoroughly unnerved. (This is one of the year’s best performances.) It’s an unshowy, quietly intense drama with grace notes in every scene—and a hellish punch.

Byzantium
Directed by Neil Jordan.
IFC Films. R.

A Highjacking
Directed by Tobias Lindholm.
Magnolia Pictures. R.

E-mail: filmcritic@newyorkmag.com.


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