It’s frankly absurd that Michael J. Bassett’s “Solomon Kane,” which premiered in U.K. theaters back in February 2010, is only tiptoeing into American theaters two years later. Credit to The Weinstein Company for picking up what is clearly a B genre picture, trading in grime-streaked foggy atmosphere and featuring a memorable turn from an ever-reliable actor frequently confused with Thomas Jane. Perhaps it’s the modern-day obscurity of Robert E. Howard’s sword-and-sorcery malefactor that prevents the assured film from coming across as a sure thing. Then again, we did get “John Carter,” so why not 'Kane'?
Solomon Kane (James Purefoy, disappearing underneath a slouch hat into a true bastard of an antihero) is a man seemingly borne of battle, reveling in the ugly business of taking lives in combat. The brutal opening quickly establishes the bloodthirst and lack of empathy that have marked Kane and only the Devil's Reaper, a demon of tremendous power, can strike fear into the contemptuous heart of this man. Kane flees, turning to the monastery and renouncing violence in an attempt to safeguard his soul from damnation. Surely this vow will be tested before the first hour is up, and when Kane falls under the care of William Crowthorn (Pete Postlethwaite, acquitting more than admirably in one of his final roles) and his clan, good God-fearing folk making their way across a disease and war ravaged England in hopes of setting sail for the new world.
Needless to say, Bassett’s script telegraphs the Crowthorn clan’s demise shortly after they fall afoul of the accursed Kane, in turn forcing the warrior to don his signature outfit, arm himself with sharp metal objects and the occasional pistol, and go to war against men and demons. As Kane chases after a virginal maiden (Rachel Hurd-Wood), he treks across a forsaken land hounded by raiders, with the common folk hanging on to the hope that a divine presence will soon intervene. Knowing full well he is damned and his hope for redemption fading into the distance, Kane sourly declares that perhaps Jesus and his angels have been absent and unaware of the mayhem.
Despite most of the time afforded to Kane’s skillful and bloody dispatching of demonic lackeys, Purefoy sells you on the spiritual conflict at the heart of a redeemed soldier thrust back into a seemingly hopeless battle, a highway to Hell if you will. DP Dan Laustsen (“Brotherhood of the Wolf,” “Silent Hill”), especially skilled at crafting haunted landscapes where the fog is permanent and the occasional embers serve to illuminate chilling statues, sets an appropriate tone that while moody, rarely feels overly serious, following the requirements of the genre without bucking any new trends. But goodness, it’s been a while since we’ve had a serviceable mini-epic that had a hard-to-like lead less intent on brooding than on filleting Satan.
It is notable how thoroughly Basset brings Kane down in the course of the film – he fails consistently and throws away hope entirely at one point, and his return to the heroic mantle is predictable but still charged. A few CGI flaws aside, 'Kane' is handsomely assembled, a complete and engrossing universe that rarely skimps on set design. It’s not everyone cup of bloody tea, but an unapologetic genre treat for those willing to dive in. Barring a surprise box office bonanza, it is doubtful we'll see Kane slice and dice across the big screen again. [B]