By Devdutt Nawalkar
Directed by James Bassett
Starring James Purefoy, Max Von Sydow, Pete Postlethwaite
Solomon Kane was a Robert E. Howard character, perhaps second in popularity to the more renowned Conan The Cimmerian. Unremittantly puritanical and, by association, fiercely idealistic, moralistic, and self-righteous, Kane was, in many ways, a prototype for the coarser, modern-day anti-hero. Dressed in black, with a correspondingly sordid past, Kane was decked out with a regular arsenal of pistols, rapiers, daggers, and other assorted niceties, while trekking him on adventures across sixteenth century Elizabethan England and beyond as wreaker of Godly vengeance on the wicked and unjust.
James Purefoy plays the eponymous character in this film by Michael J. Bassett. We join Kane, a merciless buccaneer, and his horde as they try to get their hands on a treasure spoken of in superstitious lore. As seen from the outset, however, there is more to the place than old wives’ tales. Kane marches on through the gauntlet as his crew meet their demise, until he’s forced to draw cards against a demon called the Devil’s Reaper. Kane’s very soul is the matter of dispute between the two, a price that the Devil seeks in view of Kane’s lifetime of debaucheries and killings.
Kane somehow escapes the infernal fangs, and takes refuge at a monastery, attempting to reform his ways and salvage his damned soul. His redemption, however, is fleeting, as the monks turn him out in the face of a “certain dark shadow growing over us”. Kane marches across the winter landscape, his destination apparently his birthplace, when he’s waylaid by bandits. Realigned with his Lord, he is loath to use force against his attackers, and lies hurt until he’s rescued by a family on their way to embark to newly-found America. The father, played by Pete Postlethwaite, offers Kane their company, hospitality, and sympathetic ears. All seems well until they are ambushed by followers of Malachi, a certain dark wizard who has made a pact with the Devil, and is ravaging the lands, leaving a trail of blood and loot behind him. His men kill Kane’s travelling hosts, and take the daughter captive. Kane resolves that his salvation, in this case, lies in reneging on his recent vows, and rescuing the innocent girl.
I have only read a few Solomon Kane stories, and none seemed to be origin tales, so I’m not a hundred percent on the faithfulness of Bassett’s rendition. His Kane is turned out by his baron father (played by Max Von Sydow) as a teenager, and forced to lead the life of a mercenary. My only hangup with the movie is that the young Kane’s character feels incompletely sketched, and could have used a bit more time.
James Purefoy brings credibility to the tortured nature of Kane’s character, a man haunted by his past and willing to pay the ultimate price to seek some small measure of solace. He is completely believable as a man of regret, and a man of violence. Von Sydow is, of course, a legend, and Pete Postlethwaite is a familiar face lending warmth to the movie. The real strength of Solomon Kane, however, lies in the fact that Bassett takes the admittedly cheesy subject matter seriously. There are occasions when corny topics call for self parody. This movie does perfectly well without having to mock at itself. The mood is grim and laden with tension, the skies always perfectly dull and gray, the music score soaring and dripping malice in equal parts. There were a couple of BOO! moments where even my overwhelmingly jaded self jumped out of its skin. The swordfight sequences don’t resort to Matrix-ities, and the special effects are tolerable as they are, with little CGI overkill.
I was very pleasantly surprised with Solomon Kane, and would even go as far as to say that this is the best fantasy movie I’ve seen since the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Satan, Purgatory, Zombies, Witches, Sorcerors, and an ass-kicking Avenger – not exactly a date movie, but hey, what more could a guy ask for?