Solomon Kane: Film Review

Though its grasp of English history may be a bit fanciful, "Solomon Kane" is a powerful, high-spirited romp through the realms of the increasingly popular fantasy genre.

Though its grasp of English history may be a bit fanciful, "Solomon Kane" is a powerful, high-spirited romp -- with equally high production values -- through the realms of the increasingly popular fantasy genre.

Basing his hero on a character dreamed up during the Great Depression by legendary fantasist Robert E. Howard, writer-director Bassett has given us a solid entertainment that will enthrall young and old alike. Though its niche audience may be a small one, it should perform extremely well with that group, and go on to do robust business in all ancillary markets.

James Purefoy, who shone in HBO's pedestrian togafest "Rome," reincarnates the improbably named Kane in a thoroughly convincing fashion. When the film opens, Kane is a pillager of legendary proportions, but realizes after an extra-traumatic battle that if he doesn't clean up his act he's going straight to hell. He becomes a penitent wanderer, and attaches himself to a lovely family on its perilous way across lawless England to emigrate to the New World, whose daughter is played by the even lovelier Rachel Hurd-Wood. Very bad things happen to this very nice family and from this point onward, the plot takes on the formulaic, but always effective, trajectory of a man who has foresworn violence but who, pushed to the breaking point, ends up wreaking a mountain of audience-satisfying havoc on his adversaries.

The film is ostensibly set in 1600, when, after all, the powers of Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare were at their highest point, but Bassett has chosen to represent the period, in terms of its belief in witchcraft and its general nastiness, as though it took place 800 years earlier, during the Dark Ages. (In any case, it can be safely assumed that the vast majority of this film's target audience will never notice this problem of chronology.) The costumes and production design are top-notch and powerfully evocative, and the many gruesome battle scenes are staged with a fluid gusto that will provoke hurrahs among aficionados.

Acting as intriguing ballast is a complex religious subtext, about sin and redemption, a belief system that is the product of an era still on the outlook for the Devil and his ever-busy coven of witches. Audience members who want something more than gore will be fascinated by the arcane cabalistic symbols written on the bodies of Solomon and others and by the many other manifestations this primitive Christianity takes.

Basset is very good with the discreet use of powerful visual images (bird masks, crucifixions), though he's perhaps a little too partial to rain, which drenches everything and everybody in the movie. It's not a picturesque sort of rain, but rather the sort that only deepens misery and sometimes threatens to make the audience miserable as well.

At the very end of the film, Basset goes over the top with the completely unnecessary introduction of a final monster that seems like a cross between Godzilla and King Kong, as though he wasn't completely convinced of the power of his material and his rendition of it. But he needn't have worried, and in the context of a rousing entertainment such as "Solomon Kane," this small fault may be safely overlooked.

Production Companies: Davis Films, Wandering Star, Czech-Anglo Production
Cast: James Purefoy, Pete Postlethwaite, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Jason Flemying, Max von Sydow
Director: Michael J. Bassett
Screenwriter: Michael J. Bassett, based on the character created by Robert E. Howard
Producer: Samuel Hadida, Paul Berrow
Executive producer: Victor Hadida, Michael Berrow
Director of photography: Dan Laustsen
Production designer: Ricky Eyres
Music: Klaus Badelt
Costume designer: John Bloomfield
Editor: Andrew MacRitchie
Sales: Essential Entertainment
No rating, 104 minutes

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