Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Solomon Kane

My notes on Solomon Kane (2009)

Robert E. Howard’s Elizabethan Puritan swashbuckler Solomon Kane, who took up arms against African sorcery and regular pirates, always seemed to be written entirely around the illustrations – the wide hat, long black coat, grim visage and various weapons makes him a proto-spaghetti western character, and at least a subliminal influence on the way Hugh Jackman dressed as Van Helsing. Also, like Howard’s other series ‘heroes’ (Conan, Kull), he just seemed to turn up fully-formed to get on with the story, impatient with fans’ demands that his biography be filled in from birth to retirement and later filmmakers’ requirements that he have a typical hero’s journey complete with backstory trauma and thorny (if predictable) family issues. In a tangle somewhat reminiscent of the set-up Russell Mulcahy gave the Shadow, this begins in North Africa in 1600 as a moustachioed, unPuritan pirate Solomon Kane (James Purefoy) and his scurvy band invade a palace in search of arrrh booty me lads – only for lamprey-mouthed demon thingies (the look of designer Patrick Tatopoulos’s creatures is practically a signature) in mirrors to snatch away the uncharacterised swabs before Kane is confronted by a ‘reaper’ who represents the Devil. For a film about a Puritan, this is oddly touchy about mentioning the Devil, Christ or anything Biblical.

Solomon realises he is likely damned for all is misdeeds, and heads back to England to a monastery – one which missed out on being dissolved by Henry VIII a generation earlier, we guess – to atone. An abbot rules that he has to leave to find his own path to redemption, and he spends a reel or so refraining from violence – even when bandits attack a nice Puritan family (headed by Pete Postlethwaite and Alice Krige) he falls in with. Writer-director Michael J. Bassett seems to get Puritans and Quakers mixed up (it’s easy to do – thanks to the hats), and assumes that the former, among the most violent people in English history (hence their attraction for Howard), were pacifists. Having made a vow to her dying father, Solomon is now obliged to rescue Meredith Crowthorn (Rachel Hurd-Wood, not to be confused with Evan Rachel Wood) from a Leatherface-masked thug who has psychic puppet-master powers and is the minion of wicked sorcerer Malachai (Jason Flemyng), who lives in the castle where Solomon grew up. In a flashback, young Solomon (Lucas Stone) resists his father Josiah (Max von Sydow, who doesn’t sound like any Somerset land-owner I ever met) when it is ordered he go into the church, and is semi-responsible for pushing his bullying rapist older brother Marcus (Samuel Roukin) off a cliff. So, guess who’s in the castle dungeon and who’s under the mask? The film comes up a bit short in the antagonist department – Flemyng looks odd, with writing on half his face as if he fell asleep into a wet manuscript, but is undercharacterised, turns up late in the day and gets out of the way quickly so another big CGI monster can do the final battle.

Solomon Kane is a top-of-the-third division action picture. It’s no Hawk the Slayer, but it’s no Lord of the Rings either. Purefoy, who gets to use something like the Taunton accent he probably went to stage school to wipe out, is terrific casting, but the film seems a bit reluctant to let him loose: we get vignettes in which Solomon sees off multiple baddies, skirmishes with a mad priest (Mackenzie Crook) who shoves visitors into the cellar of his ruined church to feed his vampire-zombie parishioners, has a spell of despair when he thinks the girl (pointedly a daughter figure rather than love interest) is dead and heroically wrenches himself off the nails when he’s crucified (his sword-handling skills are unimpaired) – but the grimness, the fire and the magic never quite come along. Hurd-Wood — whose CV runs to Wendy Darling, Sybil Vane, the abuse victim in An American Haunting and being rendered into a scent in Perfume — is in serious danger of being typed as a period necro pin-up – she was strangled in Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking too – so should probably take a role in St Trinians III or a Ken Loach film about council estates before the shutters close forever. Dialogue is functional, the Czech countryside just doesn’t look like the Devon/Somerset border (though stay-at-home Texan Howard wasn’t exactly the man for geographical authenticity) and it all feels a bit too much like wheel-spinning in the hope of securing a bigger budget and a more extensive location trip for a sequel – after all, this uses practically none of Howard’s stories, which mostly take place in Africa. The less-showy Black Death does much better by period horror and religious fanaticism. Still, it’s a start.


One thought on “Film review – Solomon Kane

  1. Joplin John Well… there goes the one movie I was really looking forward to. Almost sounds as if it would have been more entertaining as a bad movie, rather than a bland one.

    Paul Moloney “skirmishes with a mad priest (Mackenzie Crook) who shoves visitors into the cellar of his ruined church to feed his vampire-zombie parishioners”
    You had me at “hello”.

    Ian Brooker Is this the long lost son of Charles Foster Kane?

    Russ Hunter “Purefoy, who gets to use something like the Taunton accent he probably went to stage school to wipe out” – love it, Kim. Academia has had much the same effect on my own Devonshire accent…

    Angus Abranson **pointedly a daughter figure rather than love interest**
    Not so sure about that, I was getting some distinct attraction coming off Meredith for our Solomon over the course of the film…
    I thought it was boring and pretty pointless to be honest. It was a film I was interested in because of the ‘Solomon Kane’ setting and character. I’d put it firmly into the same category as films such as Van Helsing and Brothers Grimm – which people either seem to like or hate. I disliked all three.

    Marc Kandel To be fair Angus, it sounds like the girl is based off of a character from “Moon of Skulls”, a young girl whose family Kane knows as friends, who is abducted to Africa and somewhat smitten with Kane when he rescues her, though the feeling is unrequited as he treats her more as a kind uncle. Sounds like the same could be said here.
    I’m definitely not enthusiastic based on the review. I had guessed at a lot of the film’s weaknesses based on the trailer and Kim’s appraisal of the full work appears to confirm it, though I’m sure I’ll catch it down the road. Not being “Kull the Conqueror” already puts it a step ahead.
    The “origin” though… that’s just derivative and dull. And the confusion of what a Puritan is… laughable. The folks responsible for the Salem Witch trials written as pacifists… Howard certainly knew better; in fact he wrote Solomon as one who could not stomach hypocrasy or holier-than-thou attitudes, which is why he probably stormed off into the jungle so often.

    Joplin John “I thought it was boring and pretty pointless to be honest.” Damn it! I was so afraid they would fuck this up! Do I dare save any hope for Shane Black’s DOC SAVAGE, or Sam Raimi’s THE SHADOW? I’ve pretty much written off Joe Johnston’s CAPTAIN AMERICA. Why is it so hard to make a good “pulp” movie in the modern age?

    Angus Abranson John – That’s my opinion, I found it very predictable. The people I went with were similarly unimpressed. I do know some friends who did enjoy it though. Everyone has different tastes so you may enjoy it. The only way of really knowing is to watch it – or find a friend/reviewer who you know your tastes are very similiar and see what they think.
    I also find that if I go into a film with more of a negative outlook, or rather not expecting much, I tend to enjoy it more (unless it’s utter shite – when I kick myself for not listening to others :p). So perhaps reading a bunch of negative reviews will help you enjoy should you watch it! :p

    Joplin John Thanks Angus, I’m sure I will make myself go see it. I’m an REH fanatic! I’m not disappointed about KANE being a bad movie, I’m disappointed that it’s a mediocre movie, and that seems to be the ge
    neral consensus. So-so movies I can deal with sometimes, but I guess I just have higher standards for films based on REH’s work. The original CONAN, though majorly flawed, seems to be about as close as we’re going to get to the real deal. Too bad. I appreciate your sentiment. It’s just that it’s pretty clear this movie doesn’t knock one out of the park; and that automatically makes it a disappointment to me. Restassured, I WILL see it. You’re off the hook, man, lol!

    Joplin John I remember reading, when this thing was in pre-production, it was referred to as an Elizabethian spaghetti western with monsters. I would LOVE to see that movie!

    Marc Kandel I’ve found that with CGI at the ready imagination sometimes tends to go out the window- filmmakers think they can come up with a bigger bang than the source material provides.
    A modern film pops Kane against a level 20 Castlevania antagonist because its the average, audience pleasing ending to a movie in this genre. I think the most dangerous things Kane went hand to hand with in the stories were vicious albino gorillas, angry ghosts and a vampire or three. It sounds simple, but it was how Howard described the battles that gave them their punch, and fan or no, those are the things I’d rather see- they would still require effects but there would be an emphasis on storytelling rather than jump cut action shots.
    But of course, I’m once again jumping to conclusions with the film sight unseen which is decidedly unfair. Kane was always my favorite Howard creation and its disappointing to see such an overall lukewarm reception (not just from Kim). Who knows? I might like it- if Purefoy does a good job as Kane, sometimes for me its enough.

    Posted by kimnewman | May 23, 2019, 10:35 am

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