Directed by Michael Bassett
Solomon Kane (James Purefoy from “Rome”) is one mean bastard. A ruthless 17th century pirate who lives only for greed, he delights in killing and doesn’t hesitate to kill his own men if they disobey him. One day, while on a raid in North Africa looking for treasure, Kane meets up with the devil’s reaper, who tells him that due to his wicked ways, his soul now belongs to the devil and he’s come to collect. Refusing to let the devil have his soul, Kane manages to escape with his life (and soul) intact.
One year later, Kane is living in a monastery in England. Kane has forever sworn off violence; yet, he still feels that the devil is never far behind him. Asked to leave the monastery by the Abbot, Kane wanders the countryside before meeting up with a family of Pilgrims headed for the new world. Welcomed into their family, it seems like Kane has finally found some peace. Unfortunately for him, he picked a bad time to take an oath of non-violence. Bands of marauders are ravaging the countryside in service to the evil sorcerer Malachi, forcing the populace to swear their loyalty to him and mercilessly killing those who resist. When the Pilgrims’ oldest daughter, Meredith, is taken prisoner, Kane is once again forced to take up arms and put his soul at risk.
Director Michael J. Basset finally brings pulp hero Solomon Kane, a character originally created by writer Robert E. Howard, to the big screen after decades of languishing in the shadow of another of Howard’s creations, Conan the Barbarian. By far, Solomon Kane‘s strongest aspect is its look. In stark contrast to many other fantasy films, the 17th century England the character inhabits is a dark, gloomy place filled with dark clouds, dead bodies and snow-covered forests. Characters seem perpetually covered in dirt, sweat and blood; and there is a real feeling of doom and decay throughout. And, to put the cherry on top, there’s nary an annoying comic relief character in sight. In an age where most fantasy/horror movies are increasingly going for a more sanitized feel in order to get a piece of that sweet PG-13 box office, an R-rated fantasy epic that takes itself seriously is a welcome development.
Where Basset stumbles is in the film’s pacing, with several scenes of characters spouting expositional dialogue that get in the way of the action. In addition, side quests frequently interrupt the main story and give the film a bit of an episodic feel. Things like Kane meeting up with a preacher (Mackenzie Crook) in a seemingly abandoned church only to fall prey to his undead “flock” are cool when taken individually and probably would have made for a great short, but they’re really not essential to the main story. I would have preferred it if more screen time was given to the film’s main villain, Malachi, who instead only shows up briefly at the end of the film. Solomon’s relationship with his family, while it eventually leads to a dramatic (if a bit clichéd) revelation at the end, also could have used more development.
As Kane, Purefoy does a commendable job playing the brooding anti-hero, spitting out his lines between gritted teeth, and with his numerous scars and greasy hair, he looks appropriately battle-hardened. The film has a great supporting cast, too, including Max Von Sydow, Jason Flemyng and the late Pete Postlethwaite; but unfortunately, the film doesn’t give them enough screen time, with Von Sydow’s and Flemyng’s roles being essentially glorified cameos. Although Basset uses the film’s relatively modest budget well, some cracks do occasionally show in the effects. There is some sloppy green-screen work, particularly in the opening sequence, and the giant CG monster at the climax of the film looks like, well, a CG monster, which is disappointing considering that the rest of the movie has such a “tangible” feel to it.
I don’t want all this to sound like I’m bashing the movie. Fact is, Solomon Kane is a movie with a lot going for it. It’s dark, gritty, pulpy and has a good cast and a great look. But the film’s flaws, although small when taken individually, eventually add up to prevent it from being a truly classic fantasy adventure. Instead, it’s merely a fun, nice-looking but occasionally frustrating one. I will say this, though: It beats the hell out of that crappy Conan movie that came out last year.
3 out of 5