TIFF '09 Review: 'Solomon Kane'


Mounting any sort of "medieval" action epic must be a really daunting task. First off, it's a period piece (obviously), which means you have to buy a lot of swords, costumes, and horses. Then you face the problem that plagued flicks as varied as The 13th Warrior, In the Name of the King, Pathfinder, Outlander, etc, and that problem is this: Laughability. By that I mean it's really easy to look silly in this sub-genre if you're not firing on all cylinders. I do not offer this early set-up to imply that Michael J. Bassett's Solomon Kane is the second coming of John Boorman's Excalibur (clearly it is not), but merely to indicate that ... holy moley, this movie is a whole lot more "polished" than one has any right to expect from a medieval action flick. Let alone one that's also got one foot planted firmly in the world of crazy occult-style horror.

Based on the stories of the now-legendary Robert E. Howard (he also created the Conan the Barbarian character), Solomon Kane is about a horrifically nasty and bloodthirsty warlord who crosses swords with the devil's right-hand reaper and actually lives to tell the tale. Only Kane's not all that interested in telling the tale. Instead he holes up in a monastery for a year before he's asked to leave, heads out on a slightly random pilgrimage, befriends a kind-hearted family, and (of course) runs afoul of true evil yet again. Ah, but there's a hook: After defeating that unholy demon in combat, Kane has taken a solemn and unwavering vow of non-violence.

Suffice to say the guy's vow doesn't really last all that long.

The film's assets are many, provided you're the sort of film fan who would deign to take a medieval occult action flick halfway seriously ... which I am. A microcosm of the film's success appears in a supporting performance by the great character actor Pete Postlethwaite. Nine medieval action movies out of ten, an actor like Pete would show up in goofy costumes, over-emoting to an almost ridiculous degree, while sporting a wacky accent. But in Solomon Kane, Postlethwaite wisely underplays the role, and one gets the impression that director Bassett was keeping a keen eye on any component that could morph into something ridiculous, over-pulpy, or just plain dumb.

Awash in actual production value (the rousing score, the slick sets, even the special effects are generally impressive) and backed by a basic but effective turn by Rome's James Purefoy in the title role (a serviceable combination of Hugh Jackman, Thomas Jane, and Viggo Mortensen), Solomon Kane is the sort of '80s-style genre mix-up that most people would be content to label a "guilty pleasure," but that seems a rather unfair assessment. Nearly every component is just as it should be for a film like this, and I feel confident that the final product is precisely what Bassett and company set out to create. Solomon Kane is a well-shot, competently realized, and surprisingly entertaining mash-up of 16th century "wizards and warriors" and devil-may-care monster mayhem.