Top critical review
A honest, good fantasy/adventure movie, trying hard to stay faithful to R.E. Howard style - but only partly succeeding
7 March 2012
Of all the extremely numerous Robert E. Howard stories, those describing the adventures and tribulations of Solomon Kane are amongst the most succesful - and also possibly the hardest to film. Therefore one must already give a good point to Michael J. Bassett for even trying to tackle this great classic of fantasy/adventure letters. In my personal opinion, this film managed well to reproduce the ultra-dark style of Solomon Kane stories, but was less succesful in picturing the "hero" himself - and that notwithstanding the really good performance of James Purefoy.
After reading all the stories about Kane, I personally came to believe that he was not entirely alive - for me Solomon Kane was a kind of spectral shade of a man, paroled from the Purgatory and released on Earth to track the worst kind of warlocks, witches and all other kind of people using the surnatural to commit evil deeds. I was comforted in this feeling by the fact that he seemed never eat, drink or sleep and in all his dealings with people he was as laconic, cold and distant as possible. Also, Kane is always described as gaunt and grim with almost dead eyes, but still looking at the world with a kind of cold intensity. Now, for this movie, James Purfoy created a Kane who was quite grim and threatening, but not even close to the one from the books - his Kane certainly looks very dangerous but no one would mistake him for a vengeful wraith!
Even more important were the mistakes in the scenario. Kane is supposed to be a Puritan, and this allegiance strengthens considerably his dangerosity (Puritans were after all as fanatical as today's jihadists) - but in the beginning we see him living in a monastery, an institution which for a Puritan would be the very forteress of Devil and his Papist servants! After that we see Kane gently entertaining (totally innocently) a beautiful damsel - which is completely against the character from the stories! Finally, I believe that giving Kane a background and explaining it, was at least partially a mistake - this character was so cool in the books because he was a complete mystery. The one thing known, was that he was a man with mission and that very probably that mission was in the same time his redemption and his pennance - but his past and especially the horrible sins he had to atone for were unknown. By removing this veil of mystery, I believe the character in the movie was harmed.
That being said, if one discards Robert E. Howard stories, this film is very honest. Some of the episodes in the movie were borrowed from others Howard stories (especially the "Conan" series) but they were very skillfully included. The subplot including Kane's family was not half bad - even if as I stated before I believe it would be even better if it was not included... The episodes with the witch and the lone priest in the abandoned church were excellent! The villains were very evil and the ultimate foe is very impressive. And the whole visual aspect of the film is excellent. James Purfoy plays admirably. Rachel Hurd-Wood is certainly a delight to contemplate - gosh, did this girl grow well since "Peter Pan"! Last but not least, it is one of the last occasions when we could admire Pete Postlethwaite considerable talent, which sadly is now no more available...
Bottom line, this is a very honest fantasy/adventure movie, although definitely not a masterpiece - you just need to forget a little about Robert E. Howard stories if you want to appreciate it and spend a nice popcorn/movie evening.