out of Five
Running time: 104
Extremely dark sword and sorcery adventure with a strong central performance from James Purefoy and some impressively gritty production design, though it promises more than it delivers and is let down by a seemingly truncated finale.
What's it all about?
Directed by Michael J. Bassett, Solomon Kane is based on the character created by Robert E. Howard and stars James Purefoy as Captain Solomon Kane, a vicious mercenary who cuts a bloody swathe through 16th-century Africa on his latest mission, only to encounter the Devil's Reaper, who informs him that the Devil has laid claim to his corrupt soul. Returning to England, Solomon attempts to renounce violence and turn to God, but he's kicked out of a monastery when his presence makes the monks nervous.
Meanwhile, a diabolical masked Overlord is recruiting violent thugs throughout the land and using them to slaughter and enslave British villagers by the cartload. And when Solomon befriends a Puritan family, only to have them fall victim to the Overlord's Raiders, he realises he has to rescue their daughter Meredith (Rachel Hurd-Wood), even if it means jeopardising his soul by embracing his murderous talents once again.
Bassett takes an extremely dark approach to the material, playing it admirably straight throughout – there are no witty one-liners as Solomon dispatches his enemies, for example. There's also at least one cliche-busting moment of violence that is simultaneously unexpected, powerfully emotional and genuinely horrifying.
James Purefoy is excellent as Kane, his natural charisma and charm ably compensating for the fact that Solomon does some pretty terrible things. There's also strong support from Rachel and Patrick Hurd-Wood (as Meredith and her younger brother), Pete Postlethwaite (as Mr Crowthorn, Meredith's father) and Max von Sydow, who works his usual magic in his brief appearances as Solomon's father.
Though the fight scenes and violence (lots of severed heads, as befits the sword and sorcery genre) are well handled, it's fair to say that Solomon Kane is more sword than sorcery, which is a shame, because both the scary opening scene (with the mirror demons) and the potentially thrilling climax (Solomon facing a giant fire demon) seem to promise much more in that respect. However, the finale feels rushed (as if they ran out of money) and is disappointing as a result.
Despite its disappointing ending, Solomon Kane is an entertaining and surprisingly dark fantasy adventure with a strong performance by James Purefoy.