Friday, June 19, 2009

Cinematic gems #11: Seraphim Falls

I'm a sucker for a good western, especially a character-driven one. Such is the case with 2006's Seraphim Falls, an enthralling, brutal story of revenge and personal limits that failed to find much of an audience, even on DVD. Shortly after the Civil War, Confederate Colonel Morsman Carver (Liam Neeson, in an intense, brooding and riveting performance) hires a team of mountain men (including Michael Wincott and Ed Lauter) to help him hunt down Gideon (Pierce Brosnan, in some of his finest work), an Ex-Union Captain responsible for the death of his innocent family. Gideon is a man wracked with guilt, trying to put the terrible wrongs of the war behind him and start anew. Carver will stop at nothing to get his revenge, and as Gideon dispatches his men and stays one step ahead of him, Carver's resolve gets even stronger. Set against a marvelous backdrop of the mountains, plains and unsettled terrain of the old west, this is a fantastic blend of classical western storytelling with a bit of a post-modern slant.

What makes this film particularly arresting is the moral ambiguity these two soldiers share--we're unsure really who is the bad guy here, or if there even is a bad guy. There's a bit of a nod to classic westerns like The Searchers and The Outlaw Josey Wales where revenge poisons the protagonist and threatens to make them no better than those who wronged them. Director David Von Ancken shows real promise here in his first feature, and although the pacing can drag a little at times, the tension and suspense always stays at a high level. The film would be nothing without its two stars--Neeson and Brosnan create a bit of a dual chemistry despite little screen time together (sort of like DeNiro and Pacino in Heat). Brosnan is particular shines here--never have we seen such a grizzled, flawed, complex characterization by the actor normally know for his flashy Bond-esque performances (also check him out in The Matador, another career high for him).

We are lucky if we get one or two Westerns a year now, a sad state for a genre that once dominated film and television. But with strong Westerns like The Proposition, 3:10 to Yuma, Appaloosa and this one creeping into the multiplexes, the genre still has some good life left in it.

**Darnit, more than 3 days since my last post. Spot the Baio below!

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