This review was written for the theatrical release of "Pathfinder."
According to "Pathfinder," an ultraviolent period action movie, if it hadn't been for a virtual one-man war waged by a mysterious white Indian a thousand years ago against the Vikings in North America, this review might have been written in Swedish.
A young Norse boy, left behind after his kin's shipwreck on the eastern shore, then raised Indian, knows enough of his clan's pitiless and savage ways to defeat them at their own game. He thus saves American Indians from annihilation by Scandinavians in order for them to be slaughtered 600 years later by the Spanish, English and French.
This film from Marcus Nispel, a veteran video director and remaker of the cult classic "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," nicely balances action and adventure with American Indian wisdom and a modest romance to provide a graphic-comic-book movie experience for males in urban markets. Fox's wide but underpromoted release doesn't appear designed to seek out audiences beyond the obvious, which in this case may be wise.
New Zealand-born Karl Urban, who has played athletic men of action in two of "The Lord of the Rings" films, "The Bourne Supremacy" and "The Chronicles of Riddick," is the haunted youth brought up in two different worlds, Viking and Indian, without feeling a part of either. He gets to confront his demons when Norsemen return to the New World for more barbarous raids seeking land and slaves.
When his village is wiped out while he is away hunting, the white Indian falls in with another tribe, where he comes under the influence of a shaman named Pathfinder (Russell Means) and the arresting gaze of the man's daughter Starfire (Moon Bloodgood). How he comes by his skills with a Norse sword is a mystery -- must be in the DNA -- but he is able to pick off the Vikings as they conveniently come at him one by one, then lays traps for larger numbers.
Eventually, though, he is captured along with Pathfinder and Starfire. Once he acknowledges that he speaks the Norse tongue, the cruel Viking leader (Clancy Brown) forces him to take them to the next village to slaughter. But our boy has one last trick up his sleeve.
Nispel and his cinematographer, Daniel C. Pearl, stage much of the action in brooding forests of primeval darkness, fog and shadows. They drain much color from the images, leaving a rugged, pristine landscape over which men in animal skins and battle gear rudely march, slicing off heads and crushing bodies. It's almost like "300," only in this case reduced to "3."
The movie goes for the jugular whenever possible, with scant moments devoted to deepening character or conflict. One peculiar aspect is the emphasis the Indians place on our hero letting the love within him triumph over the hate. With the fate of their tribes hanging in the balance, don't they have it the wrong way around?
20th Century Fox
Director: Marcus Nispel
Screenwriter: Laeta Kalogridis
Producers: Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer, Marcus Nispel
Executive producers: Bradley J. Fischer, Lee Nelson, John M. Jacobsen
Director of photography: Daniel C. Pearl
Production designer: Greg Blair
Music: Jonathan Elias
Costume designer: Renee April
Editors: Jay Friedkin, Glen Scantlebury
Ghost: Karl Urban
Starfire: Moon Bloodgood
Pathfinder: Russell Means
Gunnar: Clancy Brown
Blackwing: Jay Tavare
Ulfar: Ralf Moeller
Running time -- 100 minutes
MPAA rating: R