Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 6/27/08

New movies are usually released to theaters every Friday, but who’s got 10 bucks these days to drop on a movie that may well be a load of crap? Given those odds, each Friday I offer an alternative on DVD that you can rent at your local video store (or in some cases, avoid at all costs). Some will be new releases, others you may have to hunt for, but all of them are available to light up your small screen should it be a lazy Friday night.

Seraphim Falls

In the final weekend before our daughter’s birth, Heather and I tried to relax at home as much as possible. We ended up renting a couple of movies that we had wanted to see for quite some time. One of them turned out rather well, and one of them, well, not so much. Though I’ll review them both, I figured I’d begin with the good news as it were by pointing you to a great little gem of a western that came and went with little fanfare in 2007, Seraphim Falls. This movie won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but I found it to be a riveting and moving character drama set against the cold, harsh realities of the years following the Civil War.

The film wastes little time with introductions and very literally cuts right to the chase. At the outset, we’re introduced to Gideon (Pierce Brosnan), a man camping on his own in the mountains who is suddenly shot at and pursued by a man named Carver (Liam Neeson), apparently because of some longstanding grudge Carver holds against him. The movie provides no more exposition than that at the outset, and so neither will I. The reasons driving the chase are explained throughout the film in flashback as Carver pursues Gideon across breathtaking and desolate landscapes and among several interesting characters – among them a hard nosed railroader (Xander Berkely), a kind and joyful minister (Tom Noonan), a wise old Indian (Wes Studi) and a mysterious gypsy (Anjelica Huston).

The way the movie handles exposition is actually one of its strongest suits. Everyone’s motivations are eventually laid bare for the audience and these characters are well portrayed and developed by the two actors, but we spend a great deal of the movie wondering which of the two men, if either, is the villain. We begin to sympathize with them both and see the sins of both as well, making it all the more interesting when the nature of the conflict is revealed near the picture’s end. This setup wouldn’t work if the two lead actors were anything short of excellent, and Neeson and especially Brosnan turn in some of the finest work of their careers. To anyone who has mentally typecast Brosnan as nothing more than the suave, witty characters he portrayed in the James Bond films, The Thomas Crown Affair and The Tailor of Panama, it’s time to re-evaluate your opinion. Brosnan plays a grizzled, broken man (both physically and emotionally) and gives Gideon a simultaneous hard edge and sympathetic humanity. Neeson, though not quite as good as Brosnan, is similarly solid. The two-man focus of the film reminded me somewhat of 2002’s The Hunted, a great gem of a chase film that while different in pace and style closely mirrors Seraphim Falls’ focus and spirit. John Toll’s cinematography is beautiful in its desolation, and while rookie director David Von Ancken’s oversight could have been a little more polished and tight, he still turns in a very good effort for a director who’s most prestigious previous credit is five episodes of CSI: New York. By the time all the cards are laid on the table, we are treated to a profound look at the lives of two broken men forever linked by a moment in time. The ending, with its almost mythical overtones, may feel out of place to some, but for me it seemed strangely fitting, if not entirely inevitable. This may not be one for the masses (in the interest of full disclosure, Heather found it ploddingly paced and too long), but if you’re a fan of westerns, chase movies, character dramas, or Neeson and Brosnan, you’d do well to check this one out. - **** (out of 4)

Seraphim Falls is rated R for violence and brief language.

1 comment:

Austin Fitness Trainer said...

I just saw the film and enjoyed it. Some said liking a movie for it scenery is like liking book for it pictures. Nonetheless I loved the scenery.