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Category:    Home > Reviews > Western > Survival > Seraphim Falls (2006/DVD-Video)

Seraphim Falls (2006/DVD-Video)


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 days.


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, Robocop 2).


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


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