Stuck somewhere between an antique genre flick and a metaphysical rumination on responsibility and forgiveness, David Von Ancken’s Seraphim Falls, loosely modeled on The Outlaw Josey Wales, follows the 1868 pursuit of Union colonel Gideon (Pierce Brosnan) by Confederate colonel Carver (Liam Neeson) through a desolate post-Civil War landscape. The reasons for Carver’s hunt—aided by a group of hired roughneck killers led by Michael Wincott’s Hayes—is initially shrouded in mystery by Von Ancken and Abby Everett Jaques’s spartan screenplay, which prizes heavy silence and terse, brutal violence over exposition. This secrecy regarding the narrative’s central impetus lends suspense to the film’s taut opening chase sequence through the snowy Ruby Mountains, during which Gideon is shot, forced to extract the bullet with his knife, and then driven to set deadly booby traps in order to escape. Director Ancken’s feature debut has a swift but deliberate momentum that finds a perfect complement in John Toll’s entrancing cinematography, which casts the wintry setting—and, later, the dusty plains and blistering, arid desert—as an environment both dazzling and hazardous. “Nobody can protect nobody in this world,” says Carver, an allusion to his own helplessness with regard to the past tragedy that now spurs him onward for revenge. Yet despite its weighty stillness, Seraphim Falls doesn’t quite manage to captivatingly convey (or refute) such sentiments, its thematic backbone concerning reconciliation between North and South—containing undernourished hints of commentary regarding the country’s current red state-blue state schisms—ultimately turning out to be far flimsier than its wiry, muscular action. The film’s early visceral charms slowly dwindle as the story progresses toward its hallucinatory (and yet not-hallucinatory-enough) finale involving appearances by a symbolic, spectral Native American and a magic elixir-selling stranger played by Anjelica Huston. And despite acquitting themselves admirably, neither a facial hair-encased Brosnan nor a furious-eyed Neeson are able to bring to their characters a degree of emotional/psychological depth that might have made their conflict more than an emblematic lesson about revenge and its moral and physical consequences. Nonetheless, if not nearly as multi-layered and lyrical as last year’s The Proposition, Seraphim Falls still proves to be something in short supply these days: a sturdy, straight-ahead, less-talk, more-action Western.
- Samuel Goldwyn Films
- 115 min
- David Von Ancken
- David Von Ancken, Abby Everett Jaques
- Pierce Brosnan, Liam Neeson, Anjelica Huston, Michael Wincott, Ed Lauter, Robert Baker, John Robinson, Kevin J. O'Connor, Tom Noonan, Angie Harmon, Xander Berkeley
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