Friday, May 21, 2010

Solomon Kane (2009)

The 80s were the gleaming pinnacle of sword and sorcery movies.  We're talking about movie epics like Conan the Barbarian, The Beastmaser, Jason and the Argonauts, Krull and Red Sonja.  These were the very essence of pulp, with chiseled (but very solemn) men and beautiful women seeking revenge in fantasy lands of strange creatures, sorcerers of black magick, and swords.  Lots and lots of swords.

As a kid I soaked each and every one of them up.  This is probably the reason why I enjoyed Solomon Kane (2009) as much as I did.  It captures the fantasy vibe of its 80s counterparts and in doing so it held my attention for the full runtime. 

Set in the puritan 1700s, the movie starts with Solomon Kane, driven by an insatiable appetite for material gain, leading a charge into a castle.  After displaying his prowess with two swords and skillfully skewering his opponents, he finds himself  separated from his men, and battling a Servant of Hell.  Seeing his imminent death, he jumps out of a windows and crashes into the sea below.  A year later, still emotionally scarred from the battle, we find him living a monastic life in England, having renounced violence.  After being told by the Abbot to leave, he encounters a family on their way to the New World who show him kindness and warmth. After they're attacked by man-demons and nearly all the family is butchered, he picks up his swords once more to do battle.

Okay - so Solomon's motives are driven by revenge (surprise surprise!), but there are a few twists (including one so obvious and cliche it was telegraphed from half a mile away).

James Purefroy plays the titular character with a grizzled introspection - think Christopher Lambert in Highlander.  He doesn't ham it up, but the performance is by no means subtle. That's probably, however, a function of the script and direction, rather than a limitation of his acting chops.

Purefroy's West Country brogue was unusual simply because it's not the type of accent you associate with action icons (but very apt because Kane grew on his father's estate in Devon)

Much of the movie is set in a rural English landscape, and production design successfully captures an unwelcoming, cold landscape, punctuated by the occasional brutish and ravaged town.  The movie is very grey - don't expect primary colors or cheery Mediterranean pastels. The occasional fire adds a lick of yellow, though

The action largely revolves around hand-to-hand combat, aided by swords and knives, and is relatively entertaining to watch (although as usual quick cuts are the order of the day).  CGI monsters and effects occasionally rear their unbelievable heads, but the movie is at its most successful when Solomon fights against real people (sometimes augmented by prosthetics).

The movie maintains a relatively quick pace, and doesn't lag or get boring. It's entertaining pulp that's a must-see for any fan of the sword and sorcery genre.

SCORE: 3/5

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