Michael J. Bassett’s “Solomon Kane”, based on the fictitious Robert E. Howard character, is a movie I’ve been following for a while. What can I say, the premise and idea behind the character, a lesser creation by Howard compared to his more famous Conan, appeals to me. After some delays, including a lackluster showing at Comic Con, the film was dumped into European theaters in early 2010, but as of this review has yet to find its way Stateside. The movie has been playing various film festivals around the States, but it’s looking increasingly likely that the film will never find a major theatrical run. The best case scenario, then, is a limited release followed by a major release on DVD and, as is the fashion nowadays, video-on-demand. So why the glum reception, Solomon Kane?
James Purefoy (late of TV’s promising “The Philanthropist”) plays the titular character, a 17th century English nobleman turned pirate turned scourge of decency everywhere. Basically one bastard of a guy, when we first meet Solomon he’s killing his way through a town to get a hold of the promised treasure within, only to find himself confronted by the Devil’s Reaper, a big ass demon with a big ass flaming sword. Realizing the error of his ways (the Devil coming to claim your soul will do that), Solomon flees in terror, promising the Good Lord to right his wrongs by living a peaceful life. Easier said than done, as it turns out.
A year later, Solomon finds himself in the English countryside, where he meets the company of the Crowthorn family, led by patriarch William (Pete Postlethwaite), and including young daughter Meredith (Rachel Hurd-Wood), quite possibly the most pure and innocent lass in all of the land. Solomon and the Crowthorns, who are on their way to the New World, soon crosses path with disfigured raiders in the service of the devilish Malachi (Jason Flemyng), whose men are running rampant across the land killing, kidnapping, and enslaving all that cross their path. When the Crowthorns fall prey to Malachi’s raiders and lovely Meredith is taken, the reformed Solomon Kane is forced to take up arms once more. Killing his way through Malachi’s ranks in order to get to the head man himself, Solomon soon discovers that his disastrous past has caught up with him…
I’ll be honest with you and say that I’ve never even heard of Solomon Kane until the movie was announced many moons ago. But a quick perusal of old Robert E. Howard Kane stories would seem to indicate that writer/director Michael Bassett (“Deathwatch”) knows plenty more than I do. “Solomon Kane” the movie is filled with the kind of adventures that Howard wrote about, including slave traders, piracy, demons, and in one instance, cellar dwelling vampire-type creatures. But instead of the movie taking Solomon to various locales around the world to confront these villains, the film instead focuses on a singular storyline (Kane’s search for the kidnapped Meredith) while incorporating the elements from the old Howard standbys. How faithful are they to the source material? I couldn’t tell you, though they certainly make for interesting obstacles for our hero.
“Solomon Kane” will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but fans of sword-and-fantasy movies should get a kick out of it. The film is certainly action-packed enough, and Bassett effectively sets up Solomon’s downfall as well as his return to violence. James Purefoy looks like a chameleon throughout the movie, and honestly, the Solomon that shows up at the beginning of the film, greasy hair and bloodlust and all, looks nothing like the changed Solomon that accepts the Crowthorns’ kind assistance on the road. Purefoy looks at home in the oftentimes muddy, snow and rain-soaked role, and is very convincing as the gruff, cold-blooded pirate turned black-clad avenger of innocents. As an aside, Purefoy would go on to star in “Ironclad”, another period film where he swings a sword for most of the movie. I don’t know if he purposely chose to do the two films back-to-back, but I’m sure all the training he did for “Solomon Kane” didn’t go to waste in “Ironclad”. It’s a nice gig if you can get’em.
I’ve always found director Michael Bassett’s films to be watchable, beginning with his debut, the WWI horror movie “Deathwatch”, and continuing with 2006’s survival horror outing “Wilderness”. “Solomon Kane” continues a streak of pretty good genre movies from Bassett, and although there are times when the film stumbles (the ending, with the CG monster is clumsy and seems to go nowhere), “Kane” always remains very watchable. The ending of “Solomon Kane” clearly leaves itself open for a sequel, or perhaps even a franchise, but considering the hard time the film’s had just getting to the big screen, that seems like a non-starter. Still, for 90 minutes of solid, swords-and-fantasy entertainment, give “Solomon Kane” a watch. It didn’t blow me away, or make me want to go hunt down some old Robert E. Howard “Kane” stories, but it also never bored me for one minute.
Michael J. Bassett (director) / Michael J. Bassett (screenplay), Robert E. Howard (character)
CAST: Pete Postlethwaite … William Crowthorn
James Purefoy … Solomon Kane
Jason Flemyng … Malachi
Patrick Hurd-Wood … Samuel Crowthorn
Rachel Hurd-Wood … Meredith Crowthorn
Alice Krige … Katherine Crowthorn
Rory McCann … McNess
Stewart Moore … Garrick