Rental Pick: Gothic Fantasy SOLOMON KANE starring James Purefoy

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SOLOMON KANE (2009)

Director: Michael J. Bassett
Writers: Michael J. Bassett, Robert E. Howard (character)
Cast: James Purefoy, Max von Sydow, Pete Postlethwaite, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Alice Krige, Mackenzie Crook, Patrick Hurd-Wood, Jason Flemyng
Genre: Action Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Adventures, Fantasy, Action & Adventure
Rating: R
Run time: 104 minutes

Release dates: World premiere on September 16, 2009 at the Toronto Film Festival. United Kingdom theatrical release was on February 19, 2010. Limited release in US theaters September 2012. US DVD and Netflix streaming released July 2013.

Waiting for Solomon

It took three years for Solomon Kane to appear on a North American movie screen. What took so long? Really, I had this film in my Netflix “Saved” queue for three years, forever it seemed. When I checked my Netflix list last month and saw it moved out of Saved and into my live queue, without the dreaded red type saying “long wait,” it felt like Christmas in July. The fantasy-action genre isn’t usually at the top of my list, but just about everything James Purefoy does (ahem, Rome) draws me in (the major exception is the Fox TV show soon starting its second season, The Following, where JP plays a serial killer. Turns out that’s not something I enjoy viewing, even though JP is at his ‘evil’ best). I was apprehensive at the start of the film, but soon was totally wrapped up. Everything about this film is of the highest quality, even though the budget was a fairly modest $45 million.

Background

JamesPurefoySolomonKaneSolomon Kane is an epic action film based on the pulp magazine character Solomon Kane created in 1928 by Robert E. Howard. Despite optioning the rights in 1997, filming did not begin until January 2008. It is an origin story for the Kane character and intended to be the first of a trilogy.

It is an origin story for the Kane character and intended to be the first of a trilogy. Reception was generally favorable, with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 65% following the UK/US release; the film’s atmosphere and Purefoy’s acting attracted the most acclaim.

Storyline

A once-murderous sea captain – Solomon Kane – is holed up in a monastery in retreat from the devil, whom he fears is coming for his soul. Kane soon learns, however, that the path to redemption lies in defending those who are weak. When a young girl is kidnapped and her family slain by a sorcerer’s murderous cult, he is forced to fight and seek his redemption slaying evil.

Character First

Fans of Robert Howard’s Solomon Kane books won’t recognize this screenplay. In Howard’s books, Solomon Kane is already a fully-formed character. But here, writer Michael Bassett creates a prequel – the character and story are his vision of how Kane changes and grows. He’s successful in laying out Kane’s background and how Kane, his family, and the destructive forces in his life come together.

Michael says, “If you’re not interested in the character, you’re not interested in the movie,” and “character first, character, character, character.” Yes, Michael Bassett really says “character” three times in a row. See for yourself. Check out this fascinating interview with James Purefoy and Michael Bassett from 2012 ComicCon:

James Purefoy

James Purefoy is the ONLY reason I wanted to see this film. I doubt if it would have even been on my radar at all if it wasn’t for him in the lead. James is simply brilliant in this role. He convincingly morphs from being a ruthless murderer to a quiet penitent in a monastery, from a man of determined nonviolence to, finally, according to James, an “early 17th Century Puritan avenger.” His costumes morph right along with him. Why do I suddenly want the Solomon Kane action figure, complete with wide-brimmed hat and swirling cloak?

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I’ve never been overly intrigued by an action or superhero (sorry Superman, Batman, Spiderman). But thanks to James, I’ve got one now. I’m completely hooked on Kane. What can you expect from the movie? Well, James manages to turn a simple answer to that question into a performance in and of itself. He tells us, in less than two minutes, at 2009 ComicCon:

Author Robert E. Howard

RobertEHowardSolomon Kane is just one of Howard’s creations. He also created Conan the Barbarian, a character whose cultural impact has been compared to such icons as Tarzan, Count Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Batman, and James Bond. With Conan and his other heroes, Howard created the genre now known as sword and sorcery, spawning many imitators and giving him a large influence in the fantasy field. Howard remains a highly read author, with his best works still reprinted. I was very surprised and saddened to find out he committed suicide at only 30 years of age, and his most success with his writing career was only about seven years.

DVD commentary

The commentary turns out to be one of the very best I’ve ever listened to, right behind Roger Ebert’s Citizen Kane (wow, two Kanes!). Writer/director Michael J. Bassett and James Purefoy are easy to listen to and are spot on discussing exactly what you’re seeing on the screen, and they let us in on some very interesting details of the film.

One of my favorites is when Solomon rides up to a destroyed and seemingly deserted chapel. Kane dismounts and tethers his horse to a post. James says he gets annoyed when an actor jumps off his horse and drops the reins without making any effort to secure them. He insisted on doing it as part of the scene. I laughed and just about fell off the couch, because I notice that behavior with horses in movies all the time… it’s one of my pet peeves too! Michael starts giving JP a good-natured hard time about it… he jokes that JP just wasted five seconds of screen time. I love it when JP reminds Bassett that those five seconds remain in the film.

Speaking of horses, there is an exciting scene (you’ll see it if you watch the trailer) where two pursuers on horseback in full gallop flank Kane on both his left and right side. As soon as they are all parallel, Solomon raises two pistols, outstretches both arms to full length and blasts both baddies off their horses at exactly the same time. I can’t recall ever seeing a stunt on a horse like that. James is brilliant for having pulled it off (he does almost all his own stunts in this film). In the commentary, he tells how releasing the reins from both hands at the same time so he can shoot, all the while racing through rough, forested terrain is quite an unnerving experience. I would say so!

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The Verdict

I whole-heartedly agree with this comment from IMDb:

Deserves much higher recognition, superb.

As an avid reader of Gothic fantasy I am not easily pleased when it comes to big screen versions of these kinds of stories. After so many disappointments in the past when stories falter or special effects either take over the screen or are shoddy and laughable I always feel as apprehensive as I do interested when I start watching a film like this.

However, I can honestly say that this film is one of the best I have ever seen. I wish I’d seen in it a cinema, but hadn’t heard of it. As soon as the final credits rolled I wanted to watch it all over again, and instantly went online and bought the DVD, something I rarely do.

Everything about this film blew me away, from the atmosphere of gritty cold despair, the incredible (British!!!) cast, to the imagery and beauty of some of the scenes. I could wax lyrical about so many parts of this film that I’d basically be commenting on virtually every scene. I don’t know where I’d start, and once I did, I wouldn’t be able to stop.

Fantastic. Just utterly made of every kind of Win imaginable.

The Solomon Kane DVD quickly became part of my movie collection too. If ever there was a trilogy I’d anxiously look forward to, it would be Solomon Kane. Here’s hoping for two more.

TRAILER:

Check out the trailer below:

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4 out of 5 reels

Special thanks to BECKY K. for this excellent in-depth review!


Hope you enjoy the in-depth review. So what do YOU think of Solomon Kane?