Thursday, June 10, 2010

REVIEW: Solomon Kane

Solomon Kane
Director: Michael J. Bassett
Year 2009

Solomon Kane is the perfect throwback to the fun days when fantasy films and sword and sorcerer flicks ran rampant and supreme in theaters and at the video store. This brilliant movie transports you into a world of high adventure and perilous quests during the 17th century, as we follow a complicated man by the name of Solomon Kane, who is both sinister and benevolent. The character of Solomon Kane is played by the charismatic and wholly entertaining James Purefoy, who really brings this interesting and conflicted character to life. His mannerisms and unabashed efforts to flesh out this larger then life character, is quite commendable and through his great efforts, has created a hero worthy of its cult status.

Solomon Kane was created by pulp-era writer Robert E. Howard, who has also manifested some of the most legendary figures of the fantasy genre including Conan the Barbarian. I've never had the pleasure of reading his Solomon Kane stories prior to viewing this film, so I can't validate director Michael J. Bassett's vision to his original concept of Solomon, but from what I've witnessed up on the screen, Bassett has made quite a spectacle and one that should be treasured as a great achievement in the fantasy genre.

Here comes Solomon Kane, the badass.

The story begins in 1600, when Solomon Kane and his men are raiding a fortress in South Africa only to be abruptly confronted by a life altering experience that changes Kane's viscous nature and transforms him into a pious and god fearing Puritan. After living a lifetime of sin, fueled by his zealous lust for power, Solomon is forced to change his wicked ways and live the straight and narrow path of a righteous man after being confronted by the Devil's Reaper who comes to claim his tortured soul for all the evil that he has wrought in this world. Kane makes a daring escape and is then forced to hide himself from the rest of the world and live the next year of his life in a monastery where the only comfort and protection that he has from the demons that are searching for his soul, is his love of his god and his prayers.

We're just going to take a little bit off the top.

The time that he spends at the monastery has obviously effected him greatly, for when we first see him after the span of time has bridged, we notice that he has a sense of inner piece and he carries himself with a humble aura that mirrors the new man that he is. This is a far stretch from the character that we were presented with in the opening acts of this film, one that was filled with rage and an overabundance of confidence and swagger. James Purefoy conveys all of these changes in both sides of each characters personalities and he does it with a subtle and graceful nature. Even though this abrupt change has occurred in the film, where we miss out on Solomon's year long journey to find himself, Purefoy's acting and skill in his profession, bridge the gap of that span of time and fills in the missing pieces, making us easily believe the metamorphosis that has happened within Solomon Kane.

We are then shown that Solomon must now leave the monastery and find his own way in redeeming his condemned soul, when the monks send him on his way. These sequences where Solomon is journeying across the countryside are truly breathtaking. The composition is bathed in rich fantasy imagery and everything has a certain hazy sheen that gives the visuals the look of a painting that has sprung to life in all its tranquil yet seeded wonder. Michael J. Bassett has done a wonderful job in bringing these masterful images to life and making an absolutely beautiful film.

Solomon Kane will walk 100 miles and he will walk 100 more.

James Purefoy does an amazing and believable job in bringing Solomon Kane to life, but he isn't the only actor who has brought his "A" game to this film, helping to breath some life into the world that Robert E. Howard has created. Veteran character actor, Pete Postlethwaite plays William Crowthorn, a god fearing man who is traveling across the country in order start a new life with his family in the New World. As always he does an amazing job in both bringing a sympathetic and morally just character into the film and with helping move the story along with his heart wrenching tragedy that occurs later on in the story. He brings a great sense of weight and respectability to the film and to his role that only aids to the already stellar foundations that the film lies comfortably on.

Playing William Crowthorn's wife, is the outstanding Alice Krige as Katherine Crowthorn. You might remember her outrageous role in Stephen King's Sleepwalkers as the bat shit crazy mother with a pension for snapping policemen's necks or her excellent portrayal of Rosemary Waldo, the leader of the clan of dinosaur lovers in the TV mini-series Dinotopia. She does a great job in Solomon Kane and offers some rather memorable moments in the brief sequences where she converses and offers some words of wisdom to Kane's character. Both Postlethwaite and Krige's characters ground Solomon and give the audience some precious moments to get to know the Puritan in his new changed state. These moments are calming and refreshing and allow us to appreciate the turmoil that is soon to follow. Though unexpected, these moments of peace really leave an impact on the viewers love of these characters and it enforces the belief that we don't want anything bad to happen to them. Their brief interactions with Solomon are treasured moments and they seem to have a great deal of resemblance to Kane's newfound beliefs and his sympathetic nature for god's creatures. Though their screen time is limited they leave their impression on this film and with great effect.

Pete Postlethwaite asks Mr. Purefoy if he'd like to glance at his horses ass.

We are also given a greater look into what makes Solomon Kane tick, with the help of a few handy and vividly detailed flashbacks during Kane's most influential moments as a child. One of the most telling remembrances, is when Solomon disobeys his father's wishes for him to go into the clergy, forever banishing him from his father's sight and estranging him with his family. The flashback is rather telling and shows us a prime example of Solomon's rebellious nature and at the same time it shows us that his father had intended for him to be a righteous man along the same lines as which he now is. It makes you think that maybe Solomon's path was plotted out long before he was ever born and that he was destined in some way, shape, or form to live a life pure of heart and commit himself to vanquishing evil from the world. His struggles to leave the path laid out for him and pursue his own personal glory had led him on a one way trip to eternal damnation. With all of his rebellion and resistance to accept his fate, he still ended up right were he was supposed to, as the right and justice laden hand of god. There are so many layers to Solomon Kane's character, that he really does make an interesting hero for this film to stand behind.

And you thought Simon on American Idol was tough.
Try doing it in the Medieval Times! Off with his head!

The world that Robert E. Howard has created within Solomon Kane's realm, is both rich in imagery and deep in medieval overtones. The settings are just wonderful in their wretched despair and mysterious occult surroundings. Michael J. Bassett does an impeccable job in bringing this whole world to life and making it all believable in that decrepit and twisted amalgam of dark fantasy elements. The cinematography is brilliant and relies heavily on bringing out the cold and overbearing nature of the violent surroundings and the otherworldly occurrences that happen daily in this haunting realm. It's a world filled with monsters and magic, but it's strongly rooted in reality and has a tangible substance to it.

 Even though it is out of this world, I still had the sense that this may have occurred in some forgotten time in the unwritten annals of human history. That's a very commendable achievement for a fantasy film and one that all great films of this nature strive to accomplish. Bassett goes above and beyond in this department and it's outstanding that he was able to bring such a complicated tale as this to such vivid life, seeing that he doesn't have many films under his belt. I'm hoping that this is just the tip of the iceberg of what we have in store for us in his future endeavors.

What are you nosy motherfuckers looking at?

Along the lines of making the world more believable and fearsome, Bassett courageously never holds back on showing us the real threats the world and its inhabitants have towards our main characters. The director and inherently the original creator of these tales, display some bold plot devices that stricken any feelings of safety the audience has for Solomon and his gang. I won't give away these instances, but you'll know them when you see them. No one is safe from the viscous nature of this world and the creatures that roam it and you'll witness some hair raising moments where you can't believe what has just happened to a crucial member of the cast. It really makes for an exciting ride where you're constantly on edge as Solomon struggles to find redemption for all the wrong he has done, while struggling to be a peaceful and pious man amongst such despicable beings.

In the words of Ash. Yo, she-bitch! Let's go!

Eventually, a moment comes when Solomon realizes that in order to redeem his soul and conquer the devil, he must do what he does best, striking the wicked down and driving them back to the darkness from which they came. He does this in style and feverish abundance as he is finally unleashed to bring evil to its knees only to slash its throat with the jagged edge of his unforgiving scabbard. The action is fierce in this film and goes right for the jugular. Heads role and blood is spilled in tremendous succession showing just how violent this world truly is. Bassett directs the action with a steady hand and patient eye, never giving us too many rapid edits, allowing us to revel in the carnage a bit more then most modern actioneers allow in this day in age of MTV style pulse pounding cuts. It's refreshing and seems to harken back to those fond days where the Sword and Sorcerer epics were king.

I kick ass for the Lord!

The creature designs are phenomenal and there are so many variations of these demented beings throughout this wicked world. We're given witch women with pale faces and jagged teeth, spouting mocking taunts with possessed venomous voices to ravenous hypnotized soldiers with cold curled blood coursing through their veiny facades as they massacre anything in their path in the name of their dark lord. One of my personal favorites are the goblin like demons that inhabit the basement of the burnt ruins of a seemingly deserted church. These white eyed demons are haunting at best when we're first presented with their blank and hungry stares as they wait in the darkened pit, staring up at their intended supper. The shot of their cold eyes looking up from the darkness is chilling and it's a great moment in the film. This is one fantasy film that is laced with traditional horror film elements so well that it could almost be categorized within that genre. The effects for all of these creatures are superb and all feel believable. All, except for the fire demon that comes into play at the end of this film that tends to lean too far into the CGI aspect of creature effects, but other then that small discrepancy, the film is damn near perfect.

Blinded by the light! Revved up like a deuce and kill a goblin in the night!

I haven't focused on James Purefoy's performance as Solomon Kane that much, but he does a tremendous job with this character. He's such a talented actor that hasn't gotten too many chances to shine in his career, but with Solomon Kane, he lets all of his potential come gushing out from the screen. Purefoy gives Kane a quiet and contemplative nature that in normal actors would come off as passive and boring, but with Purefoy's acting chops it gives the character a kinetic and surprisingly real persona that seems poised to burst at any second. His inner struggles with coming to terms with his new found piety and grappling with the mistakes that he's made in the past with the murders and killings and accidents that have torn his family in two, are a joy to watch come to a boil. You can see the mental battle that Solomon Kane is waging and it's all lined upon his face thanks to the subtly expressive acting of Purefoy. He gives the character of Solomon Kane such respect and due affirmation, that it really shows in his performance and translates well on the silver screen. I really can't say enough about the efforts that Purefoy has gone into making Solomon Kane a flesh and blood reality.

Solomon Kane's just hanging around. Yuck. Yuck.

Not only has Purefoy brought the needed mental depth and capacity to convey Solomon in a kind and respective light, but he's also honed in on what makes Kane such an interesting character to watch. The movements and gestures that Purefoy has perfected on, are just wonderful to see in motion. The way that he kicks up his sword before going into battle, gesturing for the dozen of ragged henchmen to step forward and meet their maker, is just entertaining as hell to witness and feels great to cheer on. Purefoy brings the charisma to Solomon Kane and he brings it well. The battle scenes are top notch and the efforts to choreograph the fight scenes in a believable manner have paid off in full. The blood, sweat, and tears are all there as battles wage among the mud and rain drenched battlefield. Purefoy's movements are quick and succinct, making it easy for the audience to be sucked into the realization that Kane's character is a force to be reckoned with. James Purefoy really does do an excellent job in making Solomon Kane the spectacle that he is in this movie, and he really makes him his own.

Solomon Kane, taking a moment to pose for his fans.

Michael J. Bassett gives us some special moments in this movie. You know the ones. It's the ones that make the bad guys look like total bad asses as they enter the fray, poised to take out anything in their path. You've seen it time and time again, like that moment in Star Wars: Phantom Menace, when Darth Maul first meets Obi Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn in the empty ship hanger. Those bay doors open up to reveal that viscously wicked painted face of Maul's as he presents his double bladed lightsaber and stands ready for battle. We get a few similar scenes like that in this film, where you know that this guy can wreck some shit. The guy I'm talking about is the masked enforcer of the main bad guy, Malachi. He enters one of the last battles with a sharp resemblance to Darth Maul's entrance in the Phantom Menace, when two large ornamented doors swing open to reveal his hulking figure as he approaches the battle field. It's pretty wicked and it's a moment that stood out as impressive in my eyes.

Now I wouldn't say that it was terribly original, but I don't often restrict myself to only appreciating exclusively original moments in movies. It's when moments fit the current situation with a near perfect sense of awe, is when I stand up and take notice, and this particular scene is of that ilk. The sequence even goes on to resemble one of my favorite fantasy movies and corresponding battle moments, when Solomon and the masked man slowly work their way towards each other, fighting off attackers as they steadily close the ground between each other. This is almost a shot for shot version of Madmartigan and General Kael's epic clash during the castle siege in Ron Howard's untimely fantasy film, Willow. The momentum that's gained during that sequence as they approach each other for the inevitable clash is outstanding and Solomon Kane relishes in this meeting of steel against steel. It's a moment that I highly appreciate and I love the homage that it pays to, to one of my most beloved films of all time. Way to go Solomon.

Well if it isn't Billy Badass, making his grand entrance.

The inevitable clash between Solomon and his arch nemesis throughout the film, comes to a head at the closing moments of the movie, and it does its job competently enough. I just wish that we would have been presented to some more face time with the main villain, Malachi. He doesn't show up until the closing moments of the film and by that time we really don't know much about him or get to truly know his intentions and somewhat sympathize with his efforts. Malachi is played by the always entertaining Jason Flemyng, and he looks amazing in his full garb and tattooed face, but we hardly get much screen time with this villainous bastard and only get to bask in his presence for a few fleeting moments. Flemyng is an amazing actor and I would have loved to see him just a little bit more.

It's only a small gripe, but I just wish that we would have been given some insight into who he really was instead of just hearing his name here and there throughout the entire run of the film. Other then that, I think the film does a commendable job on the whole and my problems with it are merely a personal preference and doesn't take away from the overall enjoyment of this tremendous movie.

The new glam rock band, The Evil Sorcerers.

Solomon Kane is a film that I thought I would never see again in modern cinema. We've been given some amazing fantasy films in recent years with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but none of them had the brutal tendencies and visceral feelings of the Conan the Barbarian films, Beastmaster, The Sword and the Sorcerer, or even a few moments in Willow. What Michael J. Bassett was able to achieve with this film was to make a believable world, filled with magic and wonder, adventure and heartbreak, danger and intrigue, horror and magnificent spectacles, swords and epic battles, and everything in between.

Bassett made a solid film that delves deep into our main characters reason for being. We watch as he struggles with his religious beliefs and his acceptance that he is a good and decent person. We witness him defy the odds and redeem a soul that seemed lost and damned for all time. Most of all we were able to see a film that brings a sense of what filmmaking is all about. It's the ability to be transported to a place in time that exists nowhere else but in the constructs of the silver screen, but within that magical realm, it appears more real then anything you've ever experienced. In all its complexities it comes down to one hell of a fun ride and a throwback to the days when movies were fun and meant to entertain as only the fantasy genre can. This film is highly recommended to anyone who loves well made fantasy films that have respect for the genre and to the fans that love them.

4 out of 5 stars      A Fantasy Cult Classic in the Making!


  1. Great review, thanks.

  2. Love the Dead Alive reference.

  3. Thanks guys. That Dead Alive quote just seemed to fit perfectly. Hahaha.