Dir: David Von Acken
Starring: Liam Neeson, Pierce Brosnan, Michael Wincott
Run. Time: 115mins
Seraphim falls is the latest film in the line of modern Westerns we’ve been treated to. Other examples would be Nick Cave’s The Proposition and the soon to be released 3:10 to Yuma remake. It plots Liam Neeson’s character’s pursuit of Pierce Brosnan’s through Nevada and the characters that cross their bloody path long the way whilst slowly revealing the reason for the feud between the two men.
The film opens very strongly with Brosnan’s character in a snowy wilderness immediately set upon by Neeson and his gang. He’s shot and has to escape. What follows is a powerful sequence with Brosnan fighting the bitter cold and ultimate having to remove the bullet and cauterise the wound. The pain Brosnan portrays here seems very real and more than anything else I’ve seen gives you a sense of how much it must suck to get shot. The only problem with this opening is that we know nothing of either character so there’s a little too much distance between the audiences and those on screen for any real emotional investment. Because of this the sequence does seem to drag a little. Pacing is a problem throughout the film as we are given very little information until quite far in so the audience is alienated a lot of the time, but the film then arguably gives too much information towards the end.
The film does hit its stride, however, after the men make it off the tundra. Brosnan’s character encounters several other minor characters as he runs, usually caught stealing their horses, and by the way he interacts with them we can start to infer something of his personality. It plays out interestingly as Neeson’s character, on the trail, must meet the same people. We are then given a way to compare the two men and try to discover ourselves what drives them. This continues and is very effective.
Having forgiven the poorly paced opening in light of some excellent character work in the second act the film is let down by its finale. One of the men does something very out of character that serves only to confuse the viewer and the very end becomes extremely odd with a sequence which doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. A sequence that could be a dream, or a hallucination or some attempt to inject spiritualism into the proceedings. If one takes it seriously then it raises questions about the entire film but I don’t think it’s handled well enough to warrant this kind of insight. It breaks the flow of the movie and seems to sacrifice a good storytelling for a lame attempt at high concept.
The ending is something of a let down and holds this back from being a great film. However, it is by no means a bad one either. The film is beautifully shot and there’s a real welcome brutality to the violence and an honesty about it, as has been the case with other modern Westerns. Some of the chase sequences and battles are highly entertaining and original. The acting is very strong, Liam Neeson doing a better job of an accent that Pierce Brosnan. The supporting cast is solid and the storytelling up until the final act is intriguing and compelling. The costume design and make up are also top-notch. This film is certainly worth a watch and is an addition to the Western genre, but it holds itself back from being a classic.
In brief: An enjoyable, brutal, original Western and character piece, well acted and shot but let down by pacing problems and a poor final act.
Originally posted Friday, 17 August 2007.