Saturday, 27 February 2010

Solomon Kane

Solomon Kane opens on a supreme moment of badassery: James Purefoy's charismatic mercenary dangling a poor sap by the throat at swordpoint. It effectively sums up the adolescent tone of this puerile but slickly unpretentious actioner, one that delves with aplomb into Robert E. Howard's pulp scribblings.

Purefoy's Kane, it turns out, owes his soul to the devil for some murky reason hiding in his past. Having renounced violence for fear of being damned to hell, he is eventually spurned into action once again when the forces of the evil priest Malachi kidnap the daughter of a family he's fallen in with. Yep, it's as ragbag a mix as that synopsis suggests, a fantastical brew of the plague, the Middle ages, dastardly baddies and sword n' sorcery.

Yet director Michael J. Basset (Deathwatch) keeps things pleasingly straight-laced in face of the inanity. Although the budget is low, the effects move along at a fair clip and there's a refreshing sense of nastiness in the bloodier sequences (one especially brutal dispatch near the start will evoke gasps). Perfect for ramping up that vital sense of good vs evil, eh?

But there's more than a whiff of familiarity about the whole scenario...and we all know what that breeds. Being so heavily indebted to 80s fantasy classics like Conan (also based on Howard), and Willow, means Kane inevitably feels like a wannabe riding its coat-tails, a fan dressed to the nines in his favourite fantasy costume. It's Conan's 'me man-you woman' stupidity revisited without a shred of irony, although there's plenty of colourful support from old-hands Pete Postlethwaite and Jason Flemyng.

The most pleasing thing of course will be the increased profile of Purefoy himself, a stalwart of British television who's long deserved his moment in the spotlight. Clad in black hat and cape and alternating evangelism with evisceration, he is a terrific screen presence. In these murky times of foggy morality, we forget how refreshing it is to have a hero who couldn't be clearer about which side he fights for.


  1. I'm contractually obligated to point out that in addition to many books, countless journals and encyclopedias, Howard's work has been analysed and explored for metaphor, subtext and philosophy. His "scribblings" can be found in the Library of America and Penguin Classics, both dedicated to preserving the best of American and World literature.

    As for "delving with aplomb" into said "scribblings," though Howard fans are divided whether the film captured the tone of the stories, none dispute the fact that the story and characterisation of Kane is utterly alien to Howard's creation. Indeed, for all my appreciation of a good redemption story, the idea of Kane being an evil man who turns good to save his soul is practically the polar opposite of Howard's Kane.

    So Kane as Howard wrote him, contrary to his amoral barbarians, soldiers, cowboys and adventurers, is indeed about as unambiguously good as they come.

  2. Yeah, this was one of those tricky reviews where I'm not familiar with the source material but I've had to take on-board the general consensus towards the movie, as opposed to the consensus toward Robert E. Howard. There's a user review on IMDB saying 'Not Solomon Kane' - probably says it all really...Less out of contractual obligation, more out of blogger kinship, I've joined your site and will be looking out for any Kane-themed writings in future! Cheers for reading!

  3. Completely off-topic, but just wanted to swing by to say a big "Congrats" on getting published! You certainly deserve it - keep it up Sean!