A doom-laden meditation on life and death and the nature of grief, based on Anne Rice's bestselling novel (written as a response to the death of her beloved daughter), and featuring two of contemporary Hollywood's most recognizable stars (both astonishingly beautiful here) as vampire and willing victim, remaining eternally young as the world evolves around them. Cruise plays a seasoned killer who revels in bloodthirsty excess, while Pitt is a conscientious objector who balks at the prospect of drinking human blood, until Cruise creates a 'companion' for Pitt in the shape of a little girl (Dunst) who refuses to grow old gracefully, with tragic consequences.
Scored with melancholy grace by composer Elliot Goldenthal, and beautifully designed and photographed (by Dante Ferretti and Philippe Rousselot, respectively), the film is epic in concept and execution, spanning the social upheavals of 17th and 18th century America and the horrors of 19th century Europe, where a nest of ancient vampires (led by scene-stealer Antonio Banderas and a miscast Stephen Rea) wreak terrible revenge on those who transgress against vampire lore. But, for all its spectacle, director Neil Jordan (THE COMPANY OF WOLVES) - working from a script credited to Rice herself - maintains a leisurely pace and never loses sight of the characters. The movie contains some beautiful, transcendent passages, including a breathtaking transition from 19th century Europe to modern day America via the introduction of motion pictures (everything from SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS to GONE WITH THE WIND and SUPERMAN!), and an incredibly moving sequence in which a once-proud vampire is discovered in exile, laid low by his own vanity.
The film's delicate tone is upset by a trick ending which comes completely out of left-field, though Jordan has denied any suggestion of studio interference. And, as with the novel, the homoerotic undercurrent is mere window-dressing, an unconsummated tease which the filmmakers (and Rice herself) refuse to explore in any detail, lest it frighten the mainstream crowd. Sadly, the movie is dedicated to the memory of River Phoenix - originally cast as the interviewer who provides one half of the film's title - who died of a drugs overdose during pre-production; his role was taken by Christian Slater. Followed by QUEEN OF THE DAMNED (2002).