DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: TIFF 2009: Solomon Kane

Thursday, 17 September 2009

TIFF 2009: Solomon Kane

Solomon Kane (2009) dir. Michael Bassett
Starring: James Purefoy, Meredith Crowhorn, Jayson Fleming, Pete Postlethwaite, Max von Sydow


In 'Solomon Kane', writer/director Michael Bassett is intent on creating an iconic and serialized character the likes of Indiana Jones, Ash, Jack Sparrow. While it’s clear Bassett has put a lot of passion, energy, and money on the screen to create a loud, rain-soaked muddy, sword-swinging medieval cult classic, unfortunately it's not cult film in the making, just a decent one-off.

Bassett sets the film in 1600 in puritan England, a well-chosen era for action purposes as it has both guns and swords as well as violent religious conflict between pagans, puritans, Protestants, and Catholics. Soloman Kane (James Purefoy) is a badass pirate introduced busting into a North African palace intent on stealing some treasure. He’s stopped by the devil himself who tells him his soul is owed to him for all his bad deeds in his life. Kane escapes back to England and retreats to his church and swears to be a man of peace.

Peace and redemption comes in the form of a humble god-fearing family of four (inc. Pete Postlethwaite) who take Kane along in their travels to the New World. But before they get anywhere they’re ambushed and killed by a horde of devil slaves. With their innocent virginal daughter kidnapped Kane must betray his oath of peace and kick some major ass to save the girl. His journey takes him back to his birthplace where he’s confronted by a long lost family rival hell bent on personal vengeance.

Solomon Kane seems to be carefully crafted for Halloween costume and merchandized action figure possibilities. He has a distinct hat and cape and Bassett often has him brandishing two swords in numerous hero worship poses. His hair which barely covers his face is a mix of Van Helsing meets The Undertaker and James Purefoy as Kane comes off as a doppelganger of Hugh Jackman with less chest, but more tattoos.

There’s nothing we haven’t seen in any film before this. Though adequately directed with full production value, each swordfight is choreographed with the same rhythm of editing, and all the same dramatic beats are hit, including the flashbacks to Kane’s tragic past and dishonour as a child. Bassett is heavy on the religious motivations and so at times it feels like being one Kirk Cameron away from being a laughable evangelical Christian film - Kane's allegories to Christ even includes a crucifixion scene with Kane escaping by ripping his hands out of the nails. Even Kane’s name is a combination of Old Testamenters, Solomon son of David, and Cain of the ‘Cain/Abel’ story.

When adding in Klaus Badelt’s Batman-like score, it becomes one giant melodramatic opera requiring us to take it all so very very seriously. There’s not an ounce of humour not even when Kane rips the mask off the deformed henchman of the devil or Kane rips his through the nails which have stuck him to the cross. Both are over-the-top moments ripe for comedic exploitation. But, no.

It’s all part of Bassett’s inability to elevate the material beyond mere overly-archetypal characters, familiar situations, and all-around recycling of all other swashbuckling/medieval actioners. ‘Soloman Kane” therefore sits somewhere above ‘In the Name of the King’, equal to Stephen Somers’ ‘The Mummy’ and below ‘Wolfhound’ in the genre of fantasy.


Waldgeist said...

I advise you learn a bit about the origins of the story, before you criticize Bassetts take and realization of it, because it sounds very much like the author intended it to be... and sometimes not screwing with the artistic creation of an author, not throwing in a funny sidekick for checklist reasons, not using every single line of poetic and strong dialogue, to throw a contemporary joke is... actually a virtue and not a sin ;)

Alan Bacchus said...

Thanks for your comment Waldgeist. I judge what's on the screen, not what was in the original material. Sometimes (a lot of times actually) what the author intends in literary form doesn't work on screen. Film is a different medium and needs to be treated as so - especially for such pulpy material written 75 years ago.