Fantastic Fest Review: ‘Solomon Kane’

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Solomon Kane, based on Conan creator Robert E. Howard’s series of stories, begins the film slashing his way around the world destroying anything, and anyone, who gets in his way. He even kills his own men, especially when they show cowardice. This tirade of evil comes to a screeching halt once Kane encounters the Devil’s Reaper, whom the devil has sent to collect Kane’s soul.

Kane, barely escaping with his life, realizes his evil ways have led him to this point and decides that he must change if he is to survive. Once he realizes the error of his ways, he then embarks on a new life, relinquishing violence in an effort to achieve redemption.

Of course, if Kane had stuck to that decision, this would be a very short movie indeed. Fortunately, he doesn’t and inevitably must return to his violent ways. But this time around, instead of the greedy, evil mercenary he once was, Kane now has a noble purpose and an actual chance at the redemption he seeks.

The innocent daughter of a Priest (Pete Postlethwaite) who had befriended Kane is taken prisoner and to save her, Kane will do whatever he needs to do — even if that means killing a few people along the way. Plus, an all-consuming evil is threatening to take over England and Kane has decided that man of peace or not, he can’t let that happen.

Before I go on, I should say that I’m a huge fan of this genre and have seen most of the movies ever made in it. That said, I consider Solomon Kane to be one of the best sword and sorcery films to come out in at least the last ten years. The film is terrific fun and under the direction of Michael J. Bassett, it can definitely take a place high up on the list of the best of these films. Bassett’s obvious love of the source material, and the genre, really shows here and helps the film rise above other typical fare of this, or most any other, genre.

Solomon Kane has pretty much everything you could want from a film. It features a flawed but intensely honorable hero, a damsel in distress, an overwhelming and seemingly unstoppable villain, sword fights, magic, action, explosions, monsters and all of it wrapped in a very neat, well photographed, well executed package that, in spite of its independent roots and somewhat meager (at least by Hollywood standards) budget, manages to look, sound taste and smell like a big budget studio feature.

Solomon Kane would not be the film it is without the standout performance by James Purefoy. As he has in many other roles, he manages to deliver a multifaceted performance and come across very well not only as terrifically menacing, powerful and evil man, but as an ultimately vulnerable and heroic one as well. Even at his most extreme moments during the film, Pureofy infuses Kane with a vitality and likability that elevates him above your standard two-dimensional characters often seen in films today.

He makes Kane come alive and when he’s killing his own men during a quest for gold and power, you believe him and his motivations. Just as you do when he renounces violence but then is forced to go back to his old ways to save a young, innocent girl and avenge the wrongs done to her family. You see the transition in him and you feel the weight of his decision. All in all a terrific job by Purefoy here.

Kudos must also be given to the excellent supporting cast including the aforementioned Pete Postlethwaite, Alice Krige, Max von Sydow as Kane’s father and Rachel Hurd-Wood as the young girl Kane must save. All of these actors manage to find something in their characters, especially Postlethwaite and von Sydow, and deliver performances well above expectations.

Director Bassett also does an impressive job. He creates a very believable world where these characters live and though he plays a bit fast and loose with the source material — Howard never wrote an origin story for Kane but that’s what this film is — he manages to provide us with the essence of Solomon Kane and show us what makes him who he is. Plus, he demonstrates an affinity for action sequences as well as for character development — something that is often lacking in other major Hollywood releases.

Solomon Kane is a great character and throughout the film we are given more and more insight into his past and what made him the man he is in the story’s current time. The movie is essentially a story which highlight’s Kane’s journey from despicable outlaw to righteous fighter against evil. The journey is not complicated, but it is definitely worth taking.

The movie also has the good sense to pause a bit for characters and to develop Kane’s relationship with his surrogate family, let the audience breath and catch up, then plunge back headfirst into more action, drama, awesome sword fights and slo-mo cape donning — which is way more awesome than it might sound.

Like most films, Solomon Kane is by no means perfect. It has some flaws, hits a few melodramatic notes, has a few plot holes and has some convenient accidents that help propel the story. Still, as the film races along at breakneck speed and our hero hacks and slashes his way through the bad guys to rescue the innocent young girl before it’s too late, you don’t really think about the film’s problems very much. You’re far too busy having a great time and are caught up in the story and characters.

Currently, Solomon Kane has no distributor, which is really a shame. A fun film like this deserves to be seen by audiences who will undoubtedly find it as enjoyable as I did. Sure, it has flaws, but then again, so does its title character. Like Solomon Kane, the movie about him manages to overcome its flaws and, in the end, deliver.

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