Picture: B Sound:
B- Extras: C+ Film: B+
Despite respectable box-office returns for Kevin Costner's Open Range (2003), good
ratings for HBO's series Deadwood
(2004-2006) and outstanding ratings for Walter Hill's cable telefilm Broken Trail (2006), the Western is
still considered too risky a sell in today's market for many of them to
get greenlit. Westerns were once a Hollywood mainstay and as
prevalent on movie screens as fantasy films are nowadays. But the heyday
of the Western was sadly long ago, and good Westerns have become way too few
and far between. When a good one does surface anymore, it's to be savored
like a gourmet meal.
That's why it's a shame that the latest Western of quality, Seraphim Falls, wasn't even given a
chance to succeed at the box office. Never picked up theatrically by a
major distributor -- it's a co-production of Samuel Goldwyn Films, Destination
Films and Icon Productions -- it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in
September, 2006, and was then given a token U.S. theatrical run on
just 52 screens with minimal or no advertising support beginning in
late January, 2007. Predictably, without a wide release and virtually no
awareness of it, the film failed to catch on in theaters where it grossed
just $418,296 domestically.
That's unfortunate, because Seraphim
Falls is a handsomely-mounted,
muscular, red-blooded Old West adventure that might have performed
decently in theaters had fans of its two stars (fellow Irishmen
Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson) known it existed. But I guess the
studios now feel it takes too much effort to get fans of Westerns
into theaters, and would rather devote their time and marketing
budgets to easier sells such as the latest comic-book movie.
But what a pleasure it is to watch a beautifully shot,
well-edited movie like Seraphim
Falls that creates excitement the old-fashioned way without all
that artificial-looking CGI, trendy washed-out color and incessant,
incoherent quick cutting that destroys most "adventure" films these
Like most people, I had to be satisfied with watching Seraphim Falls at home on DVD, but
please try to watch it on a decent-sized TV screen that can take full
advantage of the film's anamorphic 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio --
this one will definitely suffer when shown full screen. Photographed by
two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer John Toll (Legends of the Fall, Braveheart, 1998's The Thin Red Line), this is easily
one of the most stunning films to look at in recent years. Filmed mostly
on remote locations in New Mexico and Oregon, the breathtaking scenery is
itself a significant character in the story, bringing to mind
the majestic natural beauty of the wilderness captured throughout Jeremiah Johnson.
The film begins high in the snow-covered mountains in
1868 where one man (Brosnan) is being chased by a five-man posse (led by
Neeson). Unlike in other manhunt movies set in outdoor, rugged terrain (Death Hunt, First Blood, Shoot To Kill), we don't know why
the Brosnan character is being chased until more than halfway through the
film. But whatever the reason may be, it's a brutal struggle for
survival pitting man vs. man and man vs. the elements. Brosnan's
character must overcome freezing temperatures, snowy cliffs, frigid,
raging rapids and a waterfall while being doggedly pursued
by Neeson's armed posse. There's also a scene where Brosnan's
character, who we later learn is named Gideon, must perform
Rambo-style surgery on his own wounded arm with a large hunting knife.
And that's just the first 20 minutes.
The chase continues across hard terrain as it switches from
snowy, frigid mountains to arid, sweltering deserts. We eventually
discover the reason behind Neeson's relentless pursuit -- both men were
officers on opposite sides during the Civil War and the actions of Brosnan's
Gideon inadvertently led to a tragedy which killed the wife and two children of
Neeson's Carver. We can fully understand Carver's fury, but this is one
of those films that's refreshingly without good guys and bad guys.
Granted, some of the men in Carver's posse are motivated solely by greed,
but the adversarial relationship between the two leads is a metaphor for
the men who partake in most wars; Gideon and Carver are both honorable men made
enemies by circumstance.
Seraphim Falls only goes astray near the end when
it becomes needlessly surrealistic with the out-of-nowhere arrival of two
symbolic characters (played by Anjelica Huston and Wes Studi). Their
presence might have worked in a purposely off-beat Western like The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, but their presence
here feels awkward against the realism of everything else.
However, this misstep isn't enough to ruin a very well-made film, most of
which epitomizes everything movies should be, but rarely are anymore; it's
a film of few words with the confidence to tell its story visually.
Kudos to cinematographer Toll and co-writer/director David Von Ancken (this is
his first feature film after lots of work in episodic television).
Sharing more than just a similar plot with 1981's Death Hunt, Seraphim Falls also shares
character actor Ed Lauter (1974's The
Longest Yard, Magic) with that underrated
film. Other familiar faces, but not necessarily familiar names, who show
up include Michael Wincott (The Crow),
Xander Berkeley (Air Force One) and
Tom Noonan (Manhunter,
Destined to be one of the 10-best films of 2007, the
gorgeous-looking Seraphim Falls
deserves to find a big audience on DVD. Sony Pictures
DVD transfer offers impressive picture quality with English 5.1
Dolby Digital sound. Special features include a behind-the-scenes
featurette and an audio commentary with Brosnan, Von Ancken and production
designer Michael Hanan. Brosnan mentions a hilarious shot that ended up
on the cutting-room floor of a dwarf fornicating with a fat prostitute.
It should have been one of the deleted scenes, but no deleted scenes are
present. Previews for five other Sony DVDs and the 8th season of Seinfeld are included, but there's
no excuse whatsoever for the original theatrical trailer of Seraphim Falls not to be on here.
- Chuck O'Leary