Friday, November 07, 2014
Solomon Kane (2009)
Who's In It: James Purefoy (Resident Evil, John Carter), Rachel Hurd-Wood (2003's Peter Pan, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer), Pete Postlethwaite (The Usual Suspects, Inception), Alice Krige (Star Trek: First Contact, Thor: The Dark World), Max Von Sydow (Conan the Barbarian, Never Say Never Again), and Jason Flemyng (Primeval, X-Men: First Class)
What It's About: A ruthless pirate (Purefoy) tries to walk the path of peace when he learns that the devil's after his soul, but you know how these things go.
How It Is: I don't know what took me so long to finally check this movie out. I've been interested in the character for decades and though I've never read a single story featuring him, he seems totally in my wheelhouse. Two things I've loved since childhood: Conan (and by association, Robert E Howard) and holy warriors. I couldn't have told you how much the holy warrior angle is focused on in Howard's Solomon Kane stories, but the guy dresses like a pilgrim and fights monsters. I'm guaranteed to like that.
I feel like I should talk a little about my fascination with the holy warrior trope, because it's a deep part of who I am. I'm repulsed by real life people who claim to kill on God's behalf, but enthralled with fictional explorations of that theme. Sort of how Prince always struggled with the juxtaposition of sex and spirituality in his music, I've searched for a way to reconcile brutality and belief. I haven't been successful in that search, but it hasn't stopped me from looking. I've never been a violent person - in fact, I'm quite the pacifist - but in my college freshman drawing class, we were asked to create self-portraits. My buddy drew himself completely naked with full frontal; I drew myself as the Terminator. The instructor was more shocked by mine.
I've been in exactly one fight my entire life. I was eight or nine and it was over quickly. It was probably a draw, since neither of us knew what we were doing. But though I've never thrown a punch in anger, I drew a lot of violent stuff as a kid and I loved and identified with dark, bloodthirsty characters like Conan and Blackbeard and the literary James Bond. That carried over into my faith too, and it was helpful that my Biblical namesake is the archangel who battles and defeats Satan in Revelation. I completely understood that the real Crusades were horrible and unjustifiable, but I was still intensely drawn to the paradox of being a knight for God. One of my favorite superhero characters of the '90s was Azrael, in part because of that awesome Joe Quesada costume, but also because of his struggle to remain sane and find some peace in his role as holy assassin for a secret, heretical sect of Christianity. So of course I've always been attracted to images of Solomon Kane.
One of the things I like most about the movie version is the amount of attention it gives to this contradiction between soldier and saint. Kane begins the movie as a pirate so bloodthirsty that he'd give Blackbeard a hard time. An encounter with a demon puts the fear of God into him though and he tries to reform. As he wanders, he meets a family of Puritans (led by Postlethwaite and Krige) and travels with them for a while, getting to know their two sons and daughter (Hurd-Wood). But when they enter territory controlled by an evil sorcerer (Flemyng) and his masked, psychotic general, Kane has to figure out how dedicated to peace he really is. Can he stand by and let horrible things happen when he has the skill to stop it? He knows beyond any doubt that picking up a sword will cost him his immortal soul, so what role will that play in his decision? And would such an act of self-sacrifice be enough to redeem Kane in some way?
Solomon Kane isn't a perfect movie. It treads some familiar plot territory and the special effects are satisfactory, but no more than that. But the acting is legitimately excellent and I'm impressed with the moral questions the movie raises and how it comments on them without offering pat answers. I don't know if Robert E Howard was as interested in that kind of thing, but I'm eager to read his version and find out.
Rating: Four out of five passionate pilgrims.