There is but a faint hint of “barbarian” in the gloomy snowscapes, grim sword and scimitar duels and epic struggles against demons of “Solomon Kane,” the film based on the further fantasy writings of Robert E. “Conan the Barbarian” Howard.
Lacking a charismatic lead, struggling with its big themes of faith, the nonviolent moved to violence and a mercenary’s efforts to do one good thing to redeem his life of evil and murder, it’s not surprising this 2009 picture sat on the shelf for so long.
It’s a good-looking epic. But the looks weigh it down. There’s not a lot of life to it.
James Purefoy has the title role, a ruthless man of violence whose encounter with “The Devil’s Reaper” confirms his appointment in Hell. His return from his travels to his home in 17th century England means he can lay low in a monastery. Or so he thinks. He’s too rough a character to last among monks. He sets to wandering, stumbles into some Puritans (Alice Krige and the late Pete Postlethwaite among them) and, failing to protect their pure and innocent daughter from the growing carnage of Satan’s legions, resolves to rescue their daugher Meredith (Rachel Hurd-Wood) and vanquish as many Satanic minions as he can in the process.
Writer-director Michael Bassett used World War I’s trenches as a setting for horror in “Deathwatch” and went on to direct the upcoming “Silent Hill” sequel. Here he’s a bit too content to linger on his atmospheric sets with their gray and brown color palette.
Purefoy, of “John Carter” and the TV series “Rome” (he was Mark Anthony), doesn’t help matters with a colorless leading man turn. It’s a performance built on a costume (Pilgrim’s hat, leather jerkin, cape and swords) and unwashed hair style. He is Christopher “Highlander” Lambert, the Next Generation — convincing in a fight, dull the rest of the time.
Bassett doesn’t help him out by his insistence on “lingering.” “Solomon Kane” has no pace to it. It’s all Tudor architecture, rain and mud and snow and slow-motion crucifixions.
Yes, people in this world see these as “the End Times,” but crucifixions aren’t The End, here. Not as long as Solomon Kane has the strength to bellow “God give me STRENGTH!”
The script entertains thoughts of the burden of guilt, the quest for redemption. Max Von Sydow plays Kane’s cruel nobleman father in flashbacks. But the film is such a flat exercise that no “big” moments, no Purefoy sneers, can lift it.
Howard might have been onto something, setting his avenging angel loose in post-Elizabethan England, with its ongoing Catholic-Protestant struggles — order in the cities, near anarchy in the provinces. Bassett and his production design team took care to imagine that world — within a budget.
But the movie they filmed in those settings lets them, and us, down.
MPAA Rating: R for violence throughout
Cast: James Purefoy, Max Von Sydow, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Pete Postlethwaite, Alice Krige
Credits: Written and directed by Michael Bassett, based on Robert E. Howard stories. A Weinstein Co. release.
Running time: 1:54