Pulp author Robert E. Howard created many indelible characters, warriors that could stand the test of time. Most are familiar with his Conan and Kull, now they will have the pleasure of bathing in the black majesty of Solomon Kane. Kane is the Sith to Conan’s Jedi.
The world Kane lives in is not so much fantasy as it is a mixture of the real and the imagined: 1600 North Africa/England meets polytheistic beliefs with sorcery and witchcraft and Dark Ages, medieval touches. To the film’s credit, these elements are all blended together quit well so what are naturally unfitting contours, uneven edges, do not grind against one another.
Solomon Kane (James Purefoy), though spewing a hackneyed line here and there, ia a pirate, mercenary hybrid that is a joy to behold, much like Vlad III was at the beginning of Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula but more so as that scene’s pithiness did not lend itself to an escalating following for that version of the iconic character. Kane is Dawg Brown unleashed, followed, and explored. When Kane growls: “I am the only devil here,” the viewer believes he is the sole demon in the room.
Unworldly circumstance cause a lifestyle change in Kane, the only that could in man whose heart is “black as pitch, blacker than the foulest witch.” This is also a narrative strength of the film. There are hints but the viewer will never accurately guess what is going on behind-the-scenes until the middle of the third act. You may guess at part of it but it won’t be what you are thinking.
When Kane becomes a prophetic man of peace, a would-be puritan pondering flight to The New World with fresh acquaintances, the killer is always present, suppressed. Prompted to fight back, a scarred hooligan quips: “There’s murder in your eyes traveler.” What is enjoyable about Purefoy’s performance during that scene is that the viewer can actually see it on his face as they did on Conan’s while sharping his Atlantean sword after his rescue from The Tree of Woe.
This is not the only similarity Solomon Kane has with Conan the Barbarian as Max von Sydow makes an appearance in both films as a king. There is also a Roman death sentence carried out in both films though Solomon Kane’s is far more artistic and cinematically shot.
The flashback sequences in the film are treated as seriously as the modern-day aspects of Solomon Kane. At times, a mere accoutrement in other films, not so in Kane.
Most of cheerful and morose aspects of the film are shot with bleak cinematography, as if Poe himself were a producer on the film. There is even ravens on branches within a frozen lake cascaded by vapor and icy mist. Much like the mud-strewn and dirty Brotherhood of the Wolf, time is taken to introduce characters into a scene via ride up, dismounting, you name it and the camera does not quickly pan away. By not doing so, average scenes become good scenes.
Unlike Captain Blood and Sparrow, Kane is a humorless pirate, an old school Treasure Island (which will inevitably be remade) villain, one the viewer will even hear utter “silence you dogs”. The dark machismo Kane projects, even when peaceful, thanks to somber garb and long, filthy hair, is symbolic of the world he inhabits.
The battles sequences in Solomon Kane are brutal but blood does not go flying all over the place. Kane is master swordsman enough to give the son of Peleus and Captain Jack Aubrey formidable competition. One of his pugnacious highlights is when he holds what looks like a fencing sword up to a Spaniard’s throat and walks him up the stairs with it before he kills him. The viewer really gets to see how Kane relishes combat in that moment.
Ever watchful, Kane is shrewdly observant; his dark instincts sharp, sharp enough to detect others with similar mentalities.
The third act of Solomon Kane houses the standard reveals with big CGI moments that do not let down. One issue that was never explained was why the puritan girl, Meredith Crowthorn (Rachel Hurd-Wood), was marked and the meaning behind it. Was it solely because of her pure, virgin blood? What was also good about this act was that the viewer heard talk of someone (Jason Flemyng) from the second act on and when the viewer finally sees that person, hears them speak, it was not a let down.
Michael J. Bassett’s Solomon Kane is a sword and sorcery film that lives up to its hype. “It’s good.” There are a few missteps that he viewer will not like (when Kane looks up, inappropriately, and ask s God a question) but the overall more than suffices. If there is a part two, let’s hope its not along the lines of Conan the Destroyer.