Dir. David Von Ancken. US. 2006 115mins.
Had it been made 50 years ago, Seraphim Falls might now be considered aclassic western. But the intervening years have warped and reshaped the genreso many times that an effort like this seems besidethe point. Unlike John Hilcoat's savagely post-modernThe Proposition, which screened atToronto last year, there's nothing new here for contemporary audiences, andthere is much to regret. More is the pity, for leads Pierce Brosnanand Liam Neeson are more than up to the task ofstaring with flinty-eyed intensity into an uncertain future. Speakingof: theatrical prospects are slim but the triple threat of Neeson,Brosnan, and six-shooters will ensure Seraphim Falls' place in ancillary.
Debutwriter-director David Von Ancken and co-screenwriterAbby Jaques Everett have attempted to create anelemental chase movie. They've studied the lingo, they've scouted some of NewMexico's most exquisite scenery, they've expertly castthe cruel-eyed henchmen. But they fail to give their chase context: a re-editwith some additional flashbacks might help the audience understand thedoggedness of Neeson's character. Indeed, not untilthe final reel do we even learn his name - Colonel MorsmanCarver - and the basis for his antipathy for Brosnan'sGideon.
It seemsGideon and Carver were on opposite sides of the US Civil War; in the immediateaftermath, Gideon, a Union officer, is searching for Carver, who has attemptedto return to civilian life as a farmer. Gideon ordered the torching of Carver'sbarn, the fire spread to the house and caused the death of Carver's wife andtwo children. Which raises another problem: there is no shattering irony in thefact that Gideon is being hunted for all the wrong reasons. It all happens toolate in the game to matter to the audience.
Theprincipal drawback is a script with little substantive dialogue, let aloneexposition. Indeed, Brosnan doesn't utter his firstline until 25 minutes into the film, having been shot in the shoulder, fallenin a swollen river, survived a plunge from a waterfall, and - after nearlyperishing from hypothermia - digging out the bullet with his bowie knife andthen using said knife to cauterise the wound beforebeing caught trying to steal a farmer's horse by a rifle-toting girl. "Caughtby a young 'un," he mutters resignedly.
Photographyis first-class, as it should be given the presence of double-Oscar winningcinematographer John Toll (Braveheart, Legends Of The Fall). But the editing is less impressive, giventhe presence of Academy Award-winner Conrad Buff. Time and men move inmysterious ways in this picture; a compliant audience might tolerate the notionthat a man on foot, especially one with a gushing bullet wound, can outpacefour men on horse-back. But for the fugitive to get so far ahead that he canget a full night's sleep, and then convince an armed farmer to sell him hishorse (this in a landscape where the farmer says, "A man without a horse is adead man") is to stretch credulity to the breaking point. And then it happensagain.
Amagic-realist conclusion on a salt flat - Angelica Huston appears from nowherewith a wagon load of elixirs - is an unearned exit strategy. Or perhaps thewhole thing is meant to be a hallucination.
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Icon Entertainment International
David Von Ancken
Abby Everett Jaques
Kevin J O'Connor