Friday, 19 February 2010

Today's Viewing & Review: Solomon Kane

Solomon Kane

Kicking off an action franchise these days is difficult. The medium’s in a constant state of flux and what’s ‘in’ one minute is often ‘out’ the next. We’re used to seeing action films which are either contemporary or futuristic and when they are backwards-venturing, they’re usually way further back.

As such, taking (Conan-creator) Robert E. Howard’s pulp Elizabethan anti-hero, and casting an actor who’s never carried a film before, is a risky strategy indeed. Solomon Kane (James Purefoy) is introduced to us as a bloodthirsty naval leader who thinks nothing of massacring entire townships. When he escapes the clutches of a demon sent to claim his soul, he banishes himself to the sanctuary of an abbey and seeks to repent for past sins – until circumstances converge and he may have to go back to kicking ass and taking names…

After an initial five minutes of dark, brooding CGI-enhanced battles and dire scripting (culminating in the appearance of a demon who bellows exposition-heavy clangers like “your soul is damned” with no degree of irony), we’re plunged into where the rest of the film takes place; wintry Devon and Somerset.

It’s a bold move to make a film in this genre which is so out of step with modern expectations. It’s a period in history which is underrepresented in action films and having a Puritan action hero is certainly a first. However, it all works really well. The period iconography looks great. There’s a decent stab at nailing the details, giving everything an earthy feel with hints of the era’s many discoveries creeping in.

As for Solomon himself, he’s like a vitalic, arse-kicking Matthew Hopkins. The Puritan hat, combined with flowing cape, looks instantly iconic – especially during one of the films many low-angle ‘hero shots’. When garnished with muskets, swords, unnaturally clean teeth and a West Country accent, you’ve got an instantly unique central figure. There’s a depth to the character lacking in other similar works and Purefoy does a good job of keeping things emotionally anchored. Occasionally he’s unable to sell the film’s killer lines – made all the more difficult by sounding like Justin Lee Collins with laryngitis.

Ostensibly the plot is about the rescue of a barely-sketched girl but it’s very much Kane’s film and the supporting cast get very little to do - although Mackenzie Crook, Pete Postlethwaite, Max Von Sydow and Jason Flemyng all get their five minutes of scenery-chewing.

Occasionally all the soul-searching does become a bit of a struggle to endure and you yearn for some action. When the alleviating moments of arse-kickery do come along they’re pretty solid, despite occasionally mishandling what should have been the film’s money shots. Again, the (mis)use of CGI in action films rears its head here with the film resorting to cheap computer trickery when some grisly prosthetics would have looked better.

It never quite found its footing enough to call it great but there were enough brave choices and shining moments to recommend it. The highest recommendation is that the look of the film certainly stuck with me long after the vagaries of the plot had gone. I hope this does lead to a franchise as I’d quite like to see what could be done with the character in something better-developed.


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