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Posts Tagged ‘Solomon Kane’

Michael J Bassett’s Solomon Kane is pretty much a no-frills genre movie from 2009, that on the face of it resembles Van Helsing up to a point, only less comic-booky and garish. Its main point of interest for the discerning partaker of fantasy and horror is that it is supposedly based on a character created by Robert E Howard back in the 1920s. As the guy who also wrote the original Conan the Barbarian stories, Howard can justifiably stake a claim as an important figure in the development of 20th century genre fiction, but most of his non-Conan writing has fallen into obscurity, and the track record when it comes to movies based on his work is hardly stellar, either. How does this movie stand up?

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Things get underway somewhere exotic and vaguely Arabian in the early 17th century as titular adventurer Solomon Kane (James Purefoy) lays siege to a dubious foreign citadel, assisted by his gang of scurvy dogs and some very dubious CGI. Kane is, we are repeatedly shown, a right sod, cruel, vicious, and completely indifferent to the sight of his crew being set upon by demons. He is less sanguine, however, when confronted by an emissary of Satan who announces that his life of naughty deeds means that his soul is bound for Hell.

Kane is not pleased to hear this and, using the title card for cover, runs off back to a monastery in England to seek redemption. One year later he is still doing this, but the abbot receives either a vision from God or a note from the director telling him he has to turf Solomon out (it will be a fairly boring movie otherwise) so he can search for a way to save his soul elsewhere. Wandering the land, he is taken in by a family of travelling pilgrims led by Pete Postlethwaite and Alice Krige, but dark forces are also abroad. When the party come under attack and the innocent young daughter of the clan (Rachel Hurd-Wood) is dragged off by satanic cultists, it looks like Solomon Kane may have the opportunity to indulge his predilection for ass-kicking while still staying on the side of the angels…

Well, look: you know the sort of film this is, it’s the sort that comes out round about March or October, in the gap between awards season movies and summer blockbusters. It has a moderate budget, a moderately-sized star, and – one would presume – moderate ambitions as far as the box office is concerned. It’s pitching to a very specific genre audience, with the Howard connection being a bonus more than anything else. The bar here has not been set especially high, so you would expect the film-makers to be able to make a decent job of doing, you know, an acceptable movie.

Solomon Kane has got a lot going for it, particularly in terms of its cast: James Purefoy is a capable leading man, and any film including Pete Postlethwaite and Alice Krige has the basis of a solid supporting cast. (Jason Flemyng and Max von Sydow also appear, but only for about five minutes each.) The film is also strong on a bleak and doomy atmosphere.

And yet… I don’t know, perhaps I’m just getting too old for this sort of film, but I found getting through Solomon Kane to be nearly as much of an ordeal as anything undergone by the characters in the film. People gallop around on horseback in big hats, there’s a fight, there’s a doom-laden pronouncement from a supporting player, Purefoy glowers and broods a lot…

I suppose part of the problem is that on one level Solomon Kane is aware of the genre conventions and is working hard to meet them: so there are various garish CGI beasties, not to mention a reasonably competent three-act structure and a decent character arc for Purefoy. On the other hand, Bassett appears to be attempting to make something rather more subdued and atmospheric than the standard genre stomper, and the two don’t really fit together perfectly. If the film was slightly more cartoony and tongue-in-cheek (it has no appreciable sense of humour), or toned down the horror-action elements and tried to work more as a genuine drama, it might be rather more palatable. As it is, it just comes across as humourless and silly. There is no sense of historical or geographical realism, no sense of what 17th century England was actually like (though this doesn’t stop the west-country accents deployed by most of the cast from seeming rather snigger-worthy).

Actually, make that humourless, silly, and very predictable. You are never in any doubt as to what’s going to happen at any point in Solomon Kane, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but the real killer for the film is that you don’t really care either way. This is a competently filmed and acted movie, for the most part, but the script has none of the colour, energy, or innovation it desperately needs to make this film at all memorable or distinctive.

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