It’s a frustrating time to be a fan of Robert E. Howard. A few years ago, things were really looking up. Many of Howard’s writings were restored to their original versions, after years of L. Sprague de Camp’s story changes. Suddenly, Hollywood was also interested again. New films of Conan, Red Sonja and Solomon Kane were on the horizon. But then, the Red Sonja film never materialized. Marcus Nispel’s CONAN film, which was flawed and horribly marketed, tanked at the box office. And SOLOMON KANE was released everywhere but the United States, where it languished on the shelf for three years, before getting a VOD release earlier this year, followed by a limited theatrical release months later.
Whatever the reasons for the delay, someone in Hollywood needs to get fired. That is because SOLOMON KANE winds up being one of the most enjoyable adventures of the year.
When we first meet Solomon Kane (James Purefoy – JOHN CARTER, IRONCLAD), he’s a real bastard. He’s a pirate, a mercenary and a cold-blooded killer. He’s the type of man who doesn’t let anyone get in his way, including his own men. While raiding a castle, Kane is met by the Reaper, Satan’s messenger here to collect the souls of the damned. He is told that because of a bargain that had been struck, his soul is to be forfeited to the underworld. Even if this bargain did not damn Kane’s soul to Hell, his part deeds surely have. Knowing true fear for the first time in his life, he manages to escape the Reaper, aware that he will be pursued the rest of his days.
Months later, Solomon Kane has changed. Like the Biblical character of Paul, he has been scared and humbled into renouncing his truly evil past. He has marked his body with totems to keep Satan’s minions at bay. He is hiding at a monastery, where he hopes to live the rest of his days in peace, service and repentance. But such a life is not to be. Inspired by a prescient dream, one of the monks sends Kane away, telling him that his destiny lies elsewhere.
Kane roams the countryside, where he is saved from death by a family of pilgrims, led by the late Peter Postelthwaite. He travels alongside the pilgrims, in order to repay them for their generosity. Tragedy strikes as the family is accosted by the raider army of Malachi, an evil sorcerer. The army is led by the masked and silent Overlord, who can posses the souls of man with a touch. Unable to save many of them, Kane watches as the family’s daughter (Rachel Hurd-Wood – PETER PAN, PERFUME) is taken prisoner. Kane pursues Malachi’s army in a bid to rescue the daughter and perhaps redeem his soul.
Writer-director Michael J. Bassett (DEATHWATCH, WILDERNESS) manages to squeeze a truly epic storyline into under two hours. In addition to the quest described above, there are various other arcs Kane goes through from childhood all the way to the conclusion of the film. And yet, the film never feels weighted down or convoluted. This is probably what sets SOLOMON KANE apart from the pack. The film offers lots of bloody action sequences and even a few CGI monsters, as one would expect from a modern action film. Where it differs is how well it handles these elements. The film was consistently exciting and invigorating.
It also helps that the script is filled with memorable characters, particularly Kane himself. The entire film is told from his perspective and we never even meet Malachi (Jayson Flemyng) until the last fifteen minutes of the film. In the lead, Purefoy is nothing short of astounding. His character goes through a number of personas and emotions as the narrative unfolds. This is not the first time Purefoy has impressed in this capacity, but he never been as good as he is here. If only the film were given a bigger platform in the United States, Purefoy could easily keep up with the best modern action heroes.
The film is a rolicking good time that blends a good storyline with fantastical action. After all, the film may be a period piece but it’s also Robert E. Howard pulp. Hence, swords and guns rub elbows with sorcerers, demons and evil witches.
The way this film’s U.S. release has been delayed while we’ve had numerous mediocre films put on the fast track is the type of Hollywood B.S. that makes me want to rip my hair out at the roots. I cannot imagine why nobody could market this film correctly. It’s a no-brainer. But instead, we’ve gotten dull, mundane remakes and/or blockbusters while this one collected dust. In the time Purefoy’s performance has remained unseen by American audiences, we’ve had no fewer than eight films featuring the manic overacting of Nicholas Cage, only a couple of which even he seemed to care about. The delay has likely cost the studio a lot of money as this age of mass media dictates that there are other, alternate, and not always desirable or legal options for those frustrated by wishy-washy studios. While they probably deserve whatever they get, it’s also a shame in that the film will likely never reach the audience it deserves stateside. But enough griping about the release.
Many critics have enjoyed SOLOMON KANE, though few have been as enthusiastic as I am. I don’t know why that is. I don’t know they saw a mildly amusing film while I saw one of the most thrilling action adventures in recent memory. Whatever the case, I do stand by my enthusiastic recommendation. The film is here, better late than never, and it deserves to be sought out. ★★★★ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated R for graphic violence throughout
– Running Time: 1hr 47mins.