Directed and Written by Michael J. Bassett
Produced by Samuel Hadida
Based on the character “Solomon Kane” created by Robert E. Howard
Robert E. Howard is known mainly as the creator of Conan but as all us fans of his work well know he created many other heroes of equal power. They’re not as well known or as popular as Conan with the general public but in terms of characterization they’re more developed and more psychologically complex than Conan who pretty much was happy as long as he spent his days thieving and slaying and his nights wenching and drinking. Howard’s Pictish king Bran Mak Morn is obsessed with bringing the warring Pict clans together into a mighty empire against Rome and leaving a legacy to live on after his death. King Kull of Atlantis may be a barbarian but he spends just as much time in philosophical introspection as he does hacking his enemies into hamburger. And SOLOMON KANE is not only a swordsman of demonic skill and ferocity in battle, he is also a devout Puritan who has dedicated his life to God and to the vanquishing of evil.
It’s his religious fanaticism that gives Solomon Kane his distinction in the pantheon of Robert E. Howard heroes and for me it’s what gives the movie an added kick of characterization. Solomon Kane’s quest is an unusual one, concerned with spiritual salvation and redemption as much as it is with lopping off as many heads of as many men as he can who stand in his way to kill the evil sorcerer Malachi.
After barely escaping The Devil’s Reaper (Ian White) who attempts to take his soul, Solomon Kane (James Purefoy) retreats to a monastery in his native England. He covers his body with protective tattoos and Bible scriptures to keep The Devil’s Reaper at bay while he repents of his sins and embraces a life of peace. Even though he has renounced violence Solomon is destined for Hell for his past sins. Cast out from the monastery, he begins a pilgrimage to return to his family estates. As a boy Solomon was exiled by his father (Max Von Sydow) but now Solomon wishes to make amends.
He finds friendship with a Puritan family, William and Katherine Crowthorn (Pete Postlethwaite and Alice Krige) and their three children and travels with them. They are ambushed by the demonic soldiers of the sorcerer Malachi (Jason Flemyng) led by his brutal lieutenant, The Masked Rider (Samuel Roukin) In the ambush, all of the Crowthorns are killed except for Meredith (Rachel Hurd-Wood) Solomon promises the dying William that he will rescue his daughter. And so, now believing that God’s plan is for him to once again become a killer, Solomon takes up arms and sets out to rescue Meredith. In the course of that quest, Solomon Kane will confront not only foes armed with swords and magic but wrestle with his own inner turmoil and crisis of faith.
Now, don’t get scared. This may sound like heady stuff for what is essentially a Sword and Sorcery yarn but trust me, it doesn’t get in the way of the killing, maiming, slaying of demons and zombies and buckets of blood any good Robert E. Howard story has. The movie is essentially an origin story for Solomon Kane and it’s been a while since I’ve read those original story I honestly don’t believe that anything in the movie violates what has been set down in those stories. Although I do seem to recall that Kane was born a Puritan and he didn’t come from a noble wealthy family.
But it’s hard to argue with a couple of things that SOLOMON KANE may have gotten wrong when there’s so much that it gets right. The production values are amazing. They didn’t film this one on the cheap. And I liked how the landscape and location work are used to really good effect here to heighten the mood, tension and atmosphere in the various scenes. This is a Dark Ages that really is dark. It’s cold, it’s muddy, it’s rainy, it’s snowy. In short, it’s a rotten time and place to be living in. And there’s no punches pulled when it comes to the violence which is raw and brutal. There’s some really impressive stuntwork being done during the swordfights.
I had long heard that James Purefoy was excellent in this movie and I’m happy to confirm that. I’m pretty confident that he read the original Robert E. Howard stories as he scarily and convincingly conveys the righteous anger that consumes Solomon Kane in combat. And in the quieter scenes where he’s given up his violent ways and is searching for God, he sells those just as well. The quest of Solomon Kane is not just a violent one but a spiritual one as well and James Purefoy does a wonderful job of giving us both sides of the character.
Who else? There’s Pete Postlethwaite, who has always looked to me like Patrick Stewart’s meaner older brother doing his usual professional work. And it’s always a joy to see Alice Krige on screen doing anything and still looking beautiful and sexy even in Puritan clothing. Max Von Sydow makes the most of his brief but pivotal role as Josiah Kane, Solomon’s father.
The story of this movie’s production is a convoluted one as it was made in 2009 and only got to the United States last year. The only thing I can think of is that there must have been somebody getting paid under the table to keep the movie out of the U.S. I have a long list of movies that should have been major box office hits and SOLOMON KANE joins that list. As a Robert E. Howard fan I was delighted and thrilled with this movie. It’s a genuine Sword-and-Sorcery epic starring one of the most intriguing heroes ever created for the genre. By all means, watch and enjoy.