Film Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

When it comes to a cast list with potential: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska and John Hurt create a pretty formidable list and so you can be pretty sure that even in the hands of a director, Jim Jarmusch, whose work I am not familiar with, you’re not likely to be let down.

And so it proved with Only Lovers Left Alive. An innovative and interest look and take on the Vampire genre. Gone are the Twilight romances and Underworld weaponry. This is a simple, reflective look at the weathering of time on the personality of the immortal. And very good it is too.

As a film, clipped on paper it should have you running a mile. It’s dark, slow and borderline static. And yet that is exactly what is so good about it. It pulls off the most impressive trick of all, it manages to take every potential weakness it may have and turn it on its head and make it a positive. And because everything seems spun one hundred and eighty degrees it makes it’s Vampire setting, it’s nocturnal existence, even more fitting.

Tom Hiddleston & Tilda Swinton - Only Lovers Left Alive

The first thing that really hit me with Only Lovers Left Alive is just how beautiful the world of darkness is. There is a real risk of everything turning black, and becoming depressive but it never happens. Director of Photography Yorick Le Saux needs commending for he manages to bring colour to the night in a way that almost feels atmospheric. The longer it went on, the more spectacular the impact was. It honestly felt at times like he was painting with light such was the organic refinement to his creations.

And having set up such a fitting world to drop our characters into, the use of camera work then extends this to really clarify everything. Shot from a very static angle, with your view of the action fixed in the frame with the actors moving around you, the shot feels totally natural and in keeping with the tone the film creates. It feels observant, it feels true to the existence of a race hiding in the shadows.

Being so static in it’s motion, everything chronological passing of motion feel slow, careful and thoughtful. Every step planned, examined and executed, but always going forward. Always taking you on. It is a slow story but not a slow film. It doesn’t plod, it doesn’t drag and I was never bored. It grabbed, kept and increased my interest the more it gave up and the longer it went on. The more the characters released the plot the more intrigue and pleasure I absorbed from it.

Having fallen in love with the elegance of the film making and realised that the story, while dark, slow and insular is also perfectly fitting and perfectly placed, you arrive at the cast. John Hurt plays nothing more than a fleeting cameo in the grand scheme of things. In and out as though passing with the dawn of a new day. But Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddlestone really commend and make this film. Already weighted by the pressure of the lead, never fail or falter. They bring their characters to life impeccably and believably. They look right, they look like creatures of the night. Never once giving you reason not to believe they are exactly who they say they are.

Tom Hiddleston - Jake Gyllenhaal - Only Lovers Left Alive

And aside from an opening shot of Hiddleston in which he has a passing gauntly resemblance to the emancipated transformation of Jake Gyllenhaal in Nighcrawler; this perfect transformation from Swinton and Hiddleston just ties so much together. There is just so much chemistry in their relationship, that this on screen connection overwhelms you with this sense of devotion, of seeing how two people forever joined through solitude come to rely on each other for mental salvation. How when pushed into timeless extremes, it is only those who also walk your path that really hold your interest and reliance.

Sadly though, with everything looking close to perfection, Mia Wasikowska comes crashing into the film like the unwelcome guest at a party. Literally. And while I understand that in part, her role is designed to be so destructional, it felt totally unnecessary. She manages to look so out of place and disruptive to the tone of the film that the fleeting nature of her part never lingers enough to really add anything or move the story on but rather upset the natural balance to a point it never quite recovers. She breaks the surface of tension of the story for a reason that never feels needed.

Over all though, I adored this film. It is very character driven and it hangs on the performances of it’s characters more than plot, narrative, or action sequence. But it takes such a opposing and refreshing view and tone to the “vampire genre” compared to more recent attempts that it was a refreshing change. It’s certainly a film to watch later at night in a dimly lit room and it truly will make you wish Vampires really did exist, because for all the coldness of their enforced lifestyle there is something about this pair of immortal souls that make you wish you were one of them.

9 out of 10 stars (9 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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