Adam and Eve (the first and perhaps flattest of the many nomenclature gags that happen in the film) are a married vampires who have been deeply and touchingly in love for centuries. Separated at the start of the film for no directly explained reason, Adam is in Detroit indulging a secretive passion for composing and playing music, visited only by a handy local fixer called Ian (Anton Yelchin) who procures old classic guitars, wooden bullets and whatever else Adam needs. Eve is in Tangier, close by her old friend Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), yes, that Kit Marlowe, who is a vampire himself (and did of course write all of Shakespeare’s works). But sensing Adam is sinking into a depression, Eve arranges the tricky business of winging to his side. Tricky, because it all has to be done at night, and, reluctant to kill “zombies” (which is what they call people) more out of fear of contaminated blood than inherent respect for life, they are reliant on blood supplied by local hospitals and bribed doctors. Reunited, they bicker and spar gently but take care of each other through a series of small episodes, until Eve’s “sister” Ava (Mia Wasikowska) comes to stay and, stirs up the same kind of trouble that had caused them not to have seen her for 87 years.
Wasikowska’s role is small but she’s a pleasure as the petulant and mercurial Ava. Yelchin too has a great time as Ian, nailing the film’s gently loopy tone and Jeffrey Wright manages to make his two short scenes count. But the film is really about Adam and Eve, and Hiddlestone and Swinton are so good, and so well-matched, that their love story is surprisingly romantic and sexy. It’s also really good to look at, with Swinton maybe more luminous than she’s been since “Orlando,” often posed with Hiddleston in a kind of beautiful tangle of alabaster limbs, and the richness of the set design and costuming giving every frame a depth and warmth that rewards in itself. Add to that a terrific score that in its twangy electric guitar chords reminded us of Neil Young’s work on “Dead Man” and some choice songs, including a truly mesmerising track at the very end of the film sung seemingly live, and the film certainly comes handsomely dressed.
Which is not to say there aren’t some thematic throughlines for those who want to search for them. The value of “putting work out there” is mentioned frequently in the context of both Adam’s music, which he paradoxically desires to have out in the world, but fears the inevitable fame and recognition, and Kit Marlowe, the fruits of whose creativity are omnipresent, but under another man’s name. The cultured, cool vampires’ disdain for the “zombies,” along with dark hints at how they/we have “polluted” or “contaminated’ ourselves somehow hint at some slight social comment on humankind’s self-destructive tendencies, though we’re probably reaching on that one. No, the real pleasure of the film is in its languid droll cool and its romantic portrayal of the central couple, who are now our number one role models in the inevitable event of us turning vampiric. [B+]
Sony Pictures Classics announced today that they had acquired North American rights to "Only Lovers Left" Alive. No release date has been set yet.