The Way of the Word

8. May 2010

Review: Solomon Kane

Solomon Kane

F/CR/UK 2009. Directed by Michael J. Bassett. Starring James Purefoy, Pete Postlethwaite, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Max von Sydow. Runtime 105 minutes

It’s ironic, in a way: less than a week after re-reading the original Solomon Kane stories by Robert E. Howard, I get the opportunity to see the movie. So bear in mind that the following is tinted with a very fresh memory of the original tales.

It’s the early 17th century. Solomon Kane, an English mercenary, discovers that the Devil is after his soul, and that his evil and violent ways mean the Devil will get his wish. Kane hides out in a monastery, but he is eventually sent away. On the road, Kane meets the Crowthorn family and befriends them. This doesn’t end well:  the men are slain by the minions of the evil sorcerer Malachi. When the dying father tells Kane that saving the girl Meredith will redeem his soul, Kane takes up arms again. He discovers that his own family is involved with the sorcerer. And that Malachi is ready for him and has prepared to deliver Kane’s soul to the Devil.

When this movie was made in 2008, it was intended as the first in a trilogy of movies. Considering that Solomon Kane is going straight to DVD (a few film festival and con screenings notwithstanding), it’s not likely that the other two movies will be made.

The movie’s major problem is that it gives Howard’s Puritan adventurer an origin story, as a once evil and wicked man (“I am the only devil here!”) who seeks and finds redemption and decides to take on the evildoers in the world. And indeed, the Solomon Kane in this film is so different from the original that it seems as if Bassett took an original (if a bit generic) sword & sorcery script and tacked the Solomon Kane trappings on.

The Solomon Kane in this movie is wicked, brutal and selfish. At least half of the reason for why he decides to save the girl and kill the evil sorcerer are selfish: he believes it will redeem his soul. This is difficult to reconcile with the Puritan wanderer of the stories, who frequently got involved in adventures because of an overdeveloped sense of honor and justice.

Ignoring that, how does the movie work as a fantasy epic? It starts out strong, establishing characters and tone. Said tone being dirty and gritty. The coloring of the movie is cold throughout, even the red glare of frequent fires seems cold and harsh. The actors must have been thoroughly miserable; they look cold and wet throughout. Any misgivings that I had regarding James Purefoy as Kane vanished quickly; the man vanishes into the role. The action is expertly and convincingly staged. The movie’s weakest point is the showdown, when Kane has to take on an oversized, fiery CGI-monster that completely destroys the gloomy atmosphere the movie had so successfully built up. Until then, Solomon Kane manages to build a spooky and even somewhat frightening atmosphere, an accomplishment that is rare in fantasy.

In total, Solomon Kane is a mostly entertaining but standard sword & sorcery movie. Don’t expect anything that resembles the original, and you will not regret spending your time with this one.

Verdict: mildly recommended

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