Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Seraphim Falls Review
My work schedule is a little strange, but I really like it because it affords me a lot of alone time to do whatever I want. Normally-sunny Denver has had snow on the ground for a record 40th day in a row, so on Monday (my Sunday) I went to the local movie theater and caught a double header. Both movies delivered for this finicky critic. Letters From Iwo Jima was amazing, but this blog is for the immortal Western.
Seraphim Falls. I saw exactly one commercial for this movie but really liked the scenery. I also love historical movies. Seraphim Falls almost lives up to some of the best Westerns of all time. There were several themes that ran through the movie; post-traumatic stress disorder from war, how tragedy fuses two opposite characters into two sides of the same coin, and an old-fashioned manhunt by a bounty-driven posse.
Pierce Brosnan plays a man roaming the West in 1868, surviving off the land and going from area to area on his horse. He is a former Union captain in the Civil War and seems to be trying to run away from the past and the tragedies and atrocities he committed. We learn through eyewitness accounts that he lost both his sons at Antietam, went beserk and killed 40 men himself. Brosnan is being pursued by Liam Neeson and his hired posse of 4 mercenaries, played by famous actors you have seen in a bunch of movies but you never know their name. Neeson was a Confederate Colonel who had left his unit to return to his farm with his family. Brosnan is sent to get him after the Civil War and finds him not home, mistakenly burns down his property killing Neeson's family. You learn this only through alluding during the first three quarters of the movie, only fully understanding the grievance and reason for the pursuit then.
Caught by surprise, Brosnan gets shot in the arm and has to ditch his horse, having only his knapsack and a coat in the mountains in winter. The posse tracks him, down a river, over falls, down the snowy pass into the desert valleys. The scenery is amazing and seems a lot like Colorado. They call it the 'Ruby Mountains' but this film was definitely shot in the Rockies. The movie touches on the lawnessness and the hardships faced by people in the Frontier at that time. Everyone is a thief, even the clergy. Men, women and children of all ages steal. Everyone just steals from each other trying to eke out their survival.
Several scenes in the movie are hardcore gory, I was actually squirming in my seat. Rambo-style, Pierce Brosnan has to kill one-by-one his pursuers, half drowned and shot with no coat. In one scene, Brosnan has to perform surgery on his arm with his hunting knife to get the bullet out. It is absolutely off the wall.
Frostbitten and freezing without a coat, he buries his hands in the slit belly of his first victim of the posse in a desperate attempt to warm them up. He finds a dead bear in a a steel trap, cuts off the trap and sets up a booby trap. One unsuspecting posse member's horse kicks the trip wire and the trap comes swinging from a tree and catches him full on in the chest. In this harrowing scene one contemplates what that must actually feel like, to have a steel bear trap clamp around one's full chest and ribcage. The dismounted posse stares at him in disbelief, wondering what to do when Neeson merely shoots the poor bastard.
The climax of hardcore, however, came toward the end. A horse that Brosnan had acquired died while trying to get across the Desert. At this point there is one posse member left and they are hot on his heels. Realizing he has nowhere to hide and his pursuers within a mile of him, Brosnan slits the fallen horse's neck. When they come upon the body of the horse, the last remaining posse member dismounts to examine it. Neeson remains mounted and scanning the horizon. The horse's stomach and intestines are ripped from its belly and strewn in front of it. The last posse member walks up to it and turns to Neeson and wonders aloud why Brosnan would do such a thing.
At that point I was thinking that maybe he ate the liver or something because he was starving and wanted to get away and whatnot, when all of the sudden Brosnan leaps OUT of the horse carcass and has the posse member with his hunting knife to his throat! I nearly leaped out of the seat! Brosnan stands there dripping with horse blood and guts, having totally achieved the surprise. I couldn't believe it. Awesome.
I won't report on how it ends however, but it was slightly confused. Without specifically mentioning it, the movie tried to depict the mental anguish and attachment disorders of blame and guilt that war veterans experience. I picked up on that, but the exploration of those issues wasn't enough. You had to always just guess by the look in a character's eyes to tell what their motivation was. But that also was the way the West was too. You couldn't trust anyone. You had to look someone in the eye and go with your intuition. Double-crossing and thievery were done by everyone all the time, that was survival.
Great Western. Better than Tombstone but not quite there with The Good, The Bad, And the Ugly. 8 out of 10 stars.