Sunday, September 23, 2007

Seraphim Falls

The verdict: A slow-burning western, not without it's charm.

The rating: 6/10

'Seraphim Falls' is very marketable movie: it's a beautiful looking western with a great cast, and it's pretty watchable, if a little on the dull side. However, even when the movie was released in Ireland, the country of origin of the movie's two leading men, there was nary a whisper about it. Were Neeson and Brosnan on the Late Late show, and I missed it perhaps? Who knows, but I remember seeing one poster for this movie, and one review on TV, before it sank into obscurity.

Movie marketing just makes no sense to me. At some point in the mogul hierarchy, a decision is made whether to promote a movie or not, and for some reason, the 'Norbit' gets blanket media coverage for a fortnight, and movies like this, and others, such as 'Thank You For Smoking' must rely on word of mouth and peer recommendation to find an audience.

Ok, rant over. This Western is an old-fashioned slow-burning story in three acts that pits Liam Neeson's posse in pursuit of lone wolf Pierce Brosnan. The odds are stacked against Gideon's survival right from the opening moments of the movie, and he must struggle manfully to stay alive. This western is more 'Apocalypto' than 'Unforgiven', but if Gibson's Mayan pursuit movie was a hundred metre dash, this is more like a Winter Olympic biathlon, with the protagonists travelling long distances before stopping every now and again to shoot at each other.

Gradually, over the course of the chase, we learn of a dark secret that bonds these two men. Brosnan's character - and performance - is the more interesting of the two however, as the script is craftily fashioned to engineer the audience's sympathies for him in the first half of the movie, despite our knowledge that he must have done something wrong to be chased so relentlessly by Liam Neeson. I mean come on, that's Oscar Schindler for chrissakes, you've got to really piss him off to make him want to get a posse together!

As the pursuit progresses, we gradually get to know the two men better, as well as the tragic events that have given rise to Neeson's morbid pursuit. This is not a case of good guy chasing bad, but Neeson's motives for revenge are certainly black and white, while Brosnan's character is a little less cut and dry. Later, in the third act, things get more than a little allegorical and symbolic, with Anjelica Huston's appearance in particular resembling a devil at a crossroads, presenting these two men with choices that will ultimately decide their fate.

It's a beautiful looking film, and Brosnan is great in the lead role, with Neeson an excellent foil, even if he has relatively less to work with. The script is well constructed for the first two thirds, but jars a little when things start getting all surreal. Strangely, this movie's best moments were those when the characters weren't talking at all, and we're left to fill in the blanks. Some of the best scenes feature Brosnan's character using his survival skills, and there is more than a dash of 'First Blood' in some of his early scenes. However, later, when the back story is revealed in particular, my interest certainly waned a little, and the last third plodded a little for me.

I'm boggled why this movie was dropped by the marketing men, as it's got a lot going for it. Also, with '3:10 To Yuma' doing great business, and the Coen Brother's 'No Country for Old Men' being hailed as their best work in years, there could have been a wave of audience interest in Westerns to ride. As it is, this movie will probably sink to the 'straight-to-dvd' shelves, which is a shame, because it's not that bad. I won't lose too much sleep though, because it's not that great either.

Recommended for fans of the Western genre perhaps, and for those interested in Brosnan's post-Bond career-high performances. The man from Navan is really enjoying himself these days.

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