A film based on a literary creation by Robert. E. Howard, Solomon Kane is a technically excellent feature with some problematic pacing issues. The project finds the correct grizzly tone and is competently handled by Englishman Michael J. Bassett, but sadly things take too long to heat up. It’s nearly the halfway point before the film’s plot really kicks in, and whilst the second half is a hoot (the limp finale aside), it’s hard to get fully onboard with the movie after such an arduous and uninvolving first act.Solomon Kane (James Purefoy) was once a vicious and murderous mercenary, but after a confrontation with the Devil’s reaper; it transpires that Solomon is doomed to the fires of hell. In a bid to save his soul Solomon renounces violence, but finds his bloodthirsty path haunting him at every turn. Solomon takes up with a family of travellers (led by the dependable Pete Postlethwaite), but whilst on the road the group are ambushed by the evil servants of Malachi (Jason Flemyng), and all but one of the family, daughter Meredith (Rachel Hurd-Wood), are killed. Meredith is taken captive as a slave, and in a bid to save her Solomon reverts to his old violent ways, tearing up the countryside in a bid to locate and liberate his innocent companion.James Purefoy is very good in Solomon Kane, making the character sympathetic despite the trail of inexplicable bloodshed he leaves behind him. Purefoy has the weather beaten look that Viggo Mortensen so ably brought to The Lord of the Rings, giving him credibility as a hardened mercenary who’s done more than his fair share of killing. Adding to his stoic acting, Purefoy handles the action sequences well; bringing a nice degree of physicality and obvious dexterity to the role. A cache of recognisable faces make up the supporting cast (Postlethwaite, Max Von Sydow, Mackenzie Crook, Jason Flemyng,) and they’re are all perfectly fine, but this is Purefoy’s picture , and he carries it with commendable strength.
Director Basset has sculpted a magnificent looking movie despite a constraining $40 million budget, everything from the production design to the CGI beasties look professional and respectable. The action scenes are well executed and pack a healthy degree of blood and guts, Basset also editing it all together with a steady hand and a comprehensible selection of shots. This sort of nicely compiled medieval mayhem is what Solomon Kane does best, and it’s pretty much the sole reason why the picture’s second half ranks as credible popcorn entertainment. The final set-piece feels slight and anticlimactic (the minimalist budget makes its mark felt in this section), but overall this is a film that manages to at least offer some well orchestrated visual carnage.
The opening half of Solomon Kane is anything but enjoyable, a long and overcooked batch of expository scenes and underwhelming character construction. Granted some of this needs to be here, but at 40 minutes Basset drags the back-story out to a punishing length, when something a good deal shorter would probably have plugged the gaps just as efficiently. The pacing in Solomon Kane is severely misjudged, the 104 minute runtime could have easily been condensed into 90, and thus the flagging opening segment wouldn’t feel like such a painfully overdrawn ride. The second half of the film is perfectly good escapist fantasy, the movie’s real problems can all be traced back to Basset’s ill advised choice to devote half his production to pure, unfiltered set-up.
The hoards of digitally conceived hell-spawn are a welcome addition to Basset’s bountiful world, and surely these evils could lend themselves adequately to future outings. Solomon Kane is a film that has a modest degree to recommend it, but the cringe inducing and joyless first half is a crippling element that the feature never truly recovers from. I wouldn’t be adverse to further adventures, but next time the hero needs to be treated with a slightly lighter touch and a more thorough devotion to fun.
Director: Michael J. Bassett
Starring: James Purefoy, Pete Postlethwaite, Jason Flemyng
Running Time: 104 min
Country: France, Czech Republic, UK