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Solomon Kane
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by Brett Gallman

"It's no Citizen Kane, but it does have decapitations."
3 stars

Solomon Kane is one of the other creations of pulp writer Robert E. Howard, who is most famous for having introduced the world to Conan the Barbarian. You might remember (or want to forget) that Conan got a brain-damaged update last August that did little justice to Howard’s material. In comparison, Michael J. Bassett’s take on Kane probably won’t make Howard roll in his grave as much, but it’s still not exactly a rousing triumph for fans of this stuff.

Instead, it’s merely fine and paints in some rather swift strokes; it feels like there’s at least three prologues on this sucker as it greases its wheels. We first see the title character (portrayed by James Purefoy) when he’s a bit more of a 17th century scoundrel and fortune hunter. One of his raids goes bad, and he almost ends up losing his soul to the devil before jumping out of a really high window to avoid this fate. Cut to a year later, and he’s become a repentant “man of peace” who lives in a monastery until he’s booted out because a priest has a vision from God (and you thought your landlord was an asshole).

I chuckled at that setup--most of these sword and sorcery epics are thinly plotted and can basically be boiled down to a troupe of guys seeking out something. In this case, Solomon Kane is looking for nothing less than his “destiny,” which is at odds with how small and intimate the movie actually ends up being. Call it a mini-epic, perhaps, and it’s one that shares a lot of the same problems as most films like this, especially the episodic nature that keeps sidetracking Kane with side-missions that are ancillary to his quest.

That main quest doesn’t get locked in until about 30 minutes in, after the wandering Kane encounters a family that’s headed to America to start a new life. He’s still haunted by both his violent past and his troublesome childhood decision to abandon his father (Max von Sydow, in a glorified cameo), and he’s vowed not to take up arms--until he’s forced to, of course. The moment that pushes him over the edge is actually quite shocking and ballsy, but it also has the effect of rendering Kane an ineffectual puss, which only gives him more of an excuse to mope and brood as he’s eventually forced to rescue the family’s daughter after she’s kidnapped by the forces of a mysterious sorcerer.

His mopiness is indicative of the movie as a whole, as “Solomon Kane” is yet another grim and gritty affair; most of its dialogue is composed of clunky, foreboding sound-bites, with some occasional wit only sneaking in via some wisecracks. The world surrounding Kane is perpetually ashy and gloomy, and its locations and landscapes are wonderfully captured; there’s a real otherworldly, almost gothic eeriness that works here, which is more than I could say about Nipsel’s “Conan” reboot. “Kane” never truly soars as high fantasy, but there’s an abundance of weird creatures and an adequate amount of hack-and-slash, complete with oily blood splashing onto the lens.

You can also see all of this rather well too; we’ve almost come to a point where we have to point out and commend directors when they merely capture their action adequately, and Bassett does that. His camera is mostly still and he even pulls back on occasion to reveal the breadth of it all. No scenes ever manage to stand out, including the climactic one that trots out a huge CGI monstrosity before everything wraps itself up a bit too tidily.

“Tidy” and “generic” are the two words that immediately spring to mind with “Solomon Kane.” Some scenes overreach and tend towards being hokey--there’s one involving a crucifixion that looks like it should be on some kind of parody trailer reel--but, all in all, it moves fine once it gets going, and Purefoy infuses just enough charisma to break through all the angst and anguish. He’s just stuck in a movie that looks nice but is a little too scattershot and mechanical to be completely engaging (it's sometimes so predictable that Kane comes off as a dope because we've connected the dots faster than he has).

“Solomon Kane” was actually in the can over three years ago--in fact, it’s so old that it features Pete Postlethwaite as the family patriarch. Such a delay usually sounds an alarm, but nothing about “Solomon Kane” indicates that it should have been shelved for so long. You’ve seen a lot worse movies creep into theaters during that time--it just so happens that there have been some better ones, too.

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originally posted: 04/13/12 17:10:01
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: ActionFest 2012 For more in the ActionFest 2012 series, click here.

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1/22/11 Chris F watchable on a rainy day 3 stars
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  DVD: 16-Jul-2013



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