Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Solomon Kane: Puritans Kick Butt

Yes, it’s been said before, but it bears repeating—don’t pick a fight with the Puritans.  Seventeenth Century ruffians are particularly advised to give a wide berth to a reformed killer with a satanic price on his head.  There will be a fair amount of dark fantastic swashbuckling as Robert E. Howard’s hero searches for redemption in Michael J. Bassett’s Solomon Kane (trailer here), which wayfares into theaters this Friday.

Kane was once a warrior so ruthless, he sort of accidently made a pact with the Devil.  When Scratch’s minions come to collect, the adventurer is a bit freaked.  Taking refuge in a monastery, Kane converts, pledging to never take another life.  With the forces of darkness still pursuing him, Kane’s presence is rather bad for business, so the penitent sets out to confront his destiny.  He finds it with the Crowthorns, a truly Christian family of pilgrims.

When his traveling companions are attacked by a demonic militia, Kane watches helplessly out of obedience to his oath.  However, when they carry off the eldest Crowthorn daughter, Kane pledges to rescue her, even if it costs his very soul.  Yet, Kane will find her fate is intertwined the secrets of his past, as we would expect.

If nothing else, Kane is a nattily accessorized action hero.  Although some liberties are taken with his origin story, Bassett taps into something powerfully archetypal in his depiction of the menacing Puritan.  His script treats concepts of damnation and redemption with deadly earnest, which is appreciated.  In a way, SK is a far more effective Evangelical film than those made for the express purpose of proselytizing.  There is also a fair amount of hack and slash.

James Purefoy is about as good fit for Kane as one could hope to find.  He is no Ryan Gosling or Reynolds, thank the merciful Heavens.  Quite good in the superior Ironclad, he is equally credible here both in the action scenes and brooding like a man accursed.  Adding further heft, the late great Pete Postlethwaite memorably portrays the dignity of faith as William Crowthorn.  Max von Sydow is also very Max von Sydow as Kane’s noble father, seen in flashbacks.

Yet, when you get right down to it, SK ought to be more fun than it is.  The religious overtones are actually rather distinctive, but the film just gets bogged down too often.  There are simply too many scenes of Kane riding through forests, while the climax over-relies on Harry Potter style magical pyrotechnics.

Still, Bassett was definitely onto something in Kane.  Howard readers should appreciate how well he captured that sense of ancient corrupting dread.  Not perfect but a worthy effort, Solomon Kane is recommended for Howard fans and more adventurous Evangelical audiences when it opens this Friday (9/28) in New York at the AMC Empire.