Writer/director Jim Jarmusch, who has been delivering us small and unique films for over 30 years, gives us his take on vampire drama in “Only Lovers Left Alive.” The film focuses on a depressed musician/vampire, Adam (Tom Hiddleston), who values his privacy very highly. In fact, the only contact he ever seems to have is with a young man, Ian (Anton Yelchin), who runs errands for him and brings him whatever he may need. He only goes out when absolutely necessary, and even then it’s usually only to pick up a fresh blood supply at the hospital. Eventually he rekindles a centuries-old romance with his lover, Eve (Tilda Swinton), who comes to visit him in Detroit. Everything seems to be going fine, that is, until Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) shows up and interrupts everything. From such a synopsis, the film almost sound like it should be a sitcom. However, despite the way it sounds, this is a heavily dramatic work that Jarmusch has put together. Unfortunately, as to whether it’s put together well is a completely different matter.
Let’s start off with what works in Jarmusch’s latest project. There’s a tremendous sense of atmosphere that lingers over the entire film, filling the screen with a very dark mood that sets the tone just right for the kind of story he wants to tell. Adding to this is the bizarre production design of Adam’s apartment, in which all kinds of things are strewn about, including lots of musical equipment. There’s also a lot of inspired casting in this wonderful ensemble that includes Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, John Hurt, and Jeffrey Wright (for two scenes). With such a cast, it seems almost impossible that anything could go wrong, particularly with Hiddleston and Swinton’s amazing chemistry. No, what ails the film certainly doesn’t come from the direction of the cast, but rather something deeper and more fundamental.
The film certainly does have an amazing sense of style about it that is very pretty to watch, but after the effect of the visuals wears off, you begin to realize that there isn’t must more to it than that. In short, what we have with “Only Lovers Left Alive” is a film that is very much style over substance. It’s pretty to look at and it’s well-performed, but you quickly start to yearn for something engaging, something like a plot. About halfway through the film, you have the introduction of Eve’s sister, making you think that things are finally about to get shaken up, but she’s in and out in maybe 15 minutes. She does leave behind a small plot development, but sadly it doesn’t do much to propel the story either.
Whatever it was that Jarmusch was trying to accomplish with “Only Lovers Left Alive” is unclear. It appears as though he had the beginnings of an idea about vampire lovers, but was unsure of how to expand upon it or make it interesting for an audience, an issue that he tried to cover up with aesthetics. Having been a filmmaker for over 30 years, he should have known that such a trick wouldn’t work. The audience knows when there’s a hole in the film that isn’t being filled, a hole where a well-thought-out story should be. It may be nice to look at, but without that central, fundamental core, there’s not a good chance of it amounting to much.
“Only Lovers Left Alive” comes to DVD in a 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen transfer of typical fuzzy quality. It’s a watchable transfer, but the lack of sharpness will make you wish you had the Blu-ray instead. The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track is extremely soft, especially because the movie is rather quiet in the first place, but once a major volume adjustment is made, the audio becomes satisfactory. Overall, there was a lot of room for improvement, but it’s to be expected when it comes to most DVDs.
Traveling at Night with Jim Jarmusch: 49 minutes of fascinating behind the scenes footage in which we get to see Jarmusch work with his cast and crew. Very much worth watching.
Deleted and Extended Scenes: Approximately 20 minutes of material that was cut from the film with good reason.
Yasmine Hamdan “Hal” Music Video: A pointless inclusion that you can easily skip.
Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” is very pleasing to the eye and contains fine performances from its ensemble, but ultimately there is nothing beneath the surface to captivate the viewer’s interest. Mood, aesthetics, and actors can only get you so far. There needs to be a well-developed story there as well to make it all worthwhile, to give it all purpose. This is one that Jarmusch didn’t think all the way through, and it shows as the film meanders from scene to scene with no particular destination in mind. There was certainly potential in the setup, but ultimately Jarmusch was simply unable to capitalize on it.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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