By Brian Lafferty
September 28, 2012 (San Diego) – There are times when the life of a film critic resembles that of a miner. Uncovering gems like Solomon Kane – which would have gone unnoticed and unreleased here were it not for RADiUS-TWC, The Weinstein Company’s newest distribution label – is one of dozens of reasons why being a film critic is life-fulfilling.
The movie is based on the pulp fiction series written by Robert E. Howard; if that name sounds familiar to fantasy and sword-and-sorcery aficionados, it's because he was the same man who created Conan the Barbarian. Kane (James Purefoy) is a 16th century English pirate who, after a life-altering encounter with the Devil’s Reaper, tries to atone for his past by turning to religion in an effort to avoid an afterlife in Hell. Asked to depart the monastery he resides in, he’s attacked by thugs doing the bidding of a sorcerer named Malachi. A kind family (the patriarch of which is played by the late Pete Postlethwaite) rescues him, but his chance at happiness is thwarted when Malachi’s followers massacre the family and kidnap the virgin daughter. Kane’s path to spiritual peace is shattered, and he goes on a violent quest to rescue her and avenge the family.
Before you cart your little ones and teenagers to the theater hoping for something along the family-friendly lines of Pirates of the Caribbean, know this: Solomon Kane is NOT for kids. In addition to containing a lot of mature and adult themes that will fly over their heads, it contains a lot of violence (albeit nothing too graphic) and an unusual amount of violence towards women and children. In a flashback scene, Solomon spies his sadistic older brother (and heir to the throne) about to rape a young woman. Even though he doesn’t get far, I deemed it repellent because of the brother’s sadistic and arrogant attitude towards women and leadership. There are movies that put children in danger for thrills, although they emerge unharmed almost every time; few like this one actually have them slaughtered on screen. At Kane’s lowest point, he finds himself on the receiving end of a crucifixion, a torturous predicament he escapes by sliding his palms through the nails.
That’s in addition to the numerous swordfights, which are as expertly choreographed as they are violent. These aren’t the fast and flashy ones you might see in a classic Errol Flynn swashbuckler (a style that, by the way, I have no problem with; when it comes to swordfights, Errol Flynn is second to none, a master of the craft by which all others are judged). The fights in Solomon Kane are realistically slow-paced and weighty due to the large and heavy swords that are sometimes difficult for the characters to wield. The upside of this is the deep and bombastic impact upon contact followed by the outpouring of CGI blood.
The cinematography, especially as it pertains to color and lighting, is the type you either call beautiful or ugly but admire all the same. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen opts for desaturated colors that linger on muddy and grimy blacks, browns, and – less frequently – blues. The forests are dark and forbidding with a dose of slightly dense fog. The interiors are filthy as a dungeon. A certain beauty exists in these ugly colors, a prettiness that keeps the eyes hooked to the screen.
This almost monotonous color scheme is routinely interrupted with the color orange, always involving fire. The color orange appears in the movie’s most significant moments. Towards the end, Kane sees his father, imprisoned in a jail cell, for the first time since he angrily deserted him years ago after the former King chose his older brother as next in line to the throne over him. Like in every other scene that uses it, the orange and its resultant brightness heightens the emotional impact, making their dialogue and last moments meaningful and bittersweet.
If Solomon Kane were made in Hollywood, the script would have been sanitized to ensure a more marketable PG-13 rating instead of an R, which these days looks like is becoming as big a box office stigma as the NC-17. For once adults get to have their fun in the multiplex.
Solomon Kane is now playing at the Reading Gaslamp.
A RADiUS-TWC release. Director: Michael J. Bassett. Screenplay: Michael J. Bassett, based upon characters created by Robert E. Howard. Original Music: Klaus Badelt. Cinematography: Dan Laustsen. Cast: James Purefoy, Max von Sydow, Rachel Hurd-Wood, and Pete Postlethwaite. Running time: 104 minutes. Rated R.