Michael Bassett has been toiling in the world of low-budget horror for most of the decade, managing to bring two small films to the screen so far. "Deathwatch" and "Wilderness" are both promising pictures that are hampered more by ambition than by anything, and it's obvious that Bassett has a big imagination he's been itching to set loose.
It seems perfect, then, that he was tapped to bring Robert E. Howard's first great pulp creation to life. Everyone knows Conan the Barbarian, but Solomon Kane was actually created while Howard was still in high school, and it's a far more difficult character to get a handle on, particularly considering modern cinema trends. Much of the iconography of Kane has been co-opted by other filmmakers, most notably with the visual appearance of Hugh Jackman's "Van Helsing,' who is essentially ripped off wholesale from Kane. If you compare that film to this one, though, I think the things that Bassett does right are magnified, and it speaks well of where he's heading as a filmmaker.
Solomon Kane (James Purefoy) is a bloodthirsty battle-hardened bastard when we meet him at the start of the film, and it's only when he comes face to face with one of the Devil's Reapers that he is forced to confront the cumulative weight of all the sins he has committed. Realizing his soul is in danger of damnation, he retreats to the safety of a cloistered abbey, where he covers himself in religious iconography and spends his time praying for salvation. He's sent out into the world, though, told that he will find his redemption through actions, not prayers, and the rest of the movie is the story of this perfectly-honed killing machine doing his best to become a man of peace. When he finally does decide to kill again, the difference is the reason why, and he ends up seeking his salvation at the end of a sword.
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Purefoy looks like someone shoved '80s Christopher Lambert and Hugh Jackman into a Brundlechamber and he's what came out the other end, and he makes an engaging, suitably dour lead as Kane. He handles the bloodshed with aplomb, but he's also good at suggesting the spiritual struggle at play in Kane. His conscience is stubbornly pricked to life by his encounters with a family of Puritans fathered by Pete Postlewaite. Rachel Hurd-Wood grows more beautiful every year, and she represents the path of righteousness that Solomon so desperately wants to follow.
The film is deliberately paced, but again... that's where a comparison to "Van Helsing" really helps. The problem with that film was there was no sense of pace of modulation. Everything was played AT FULL VOLUME FROM THE MOMENT THE MOVIE BEGAN, which seems to be a problem for most big-budget films these days. "Solomon Kane" certainly has its fair share of money shots and big payoffs, but you wait for them, and when they come, they tend to play as a release. If all we saw was two hours of swordplay, it would get boring. Instead, there's a moment here where Solomon makes the choice to spill some blood, and when it comes, it's a genuine thrill because we've been watching him wrestle with that decision.
The film has an overall aesthetic feel that reminds me of the sword and sorcery film of the '80s, and it's a welcome throwback. Right now, "Kane" remains without a distributor in the United States, but hopefully a strong showing in Toronto and here in Austin could help change that, and I sincerely hope audiences get their chance to see "Solomon Kane" tear into evil sometime in 2010.
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