Who says nothing good comes out of lockdown? Back in 2009 and writing elsewhere, I reviewed Solomon Kane as a surprisingly good three star movie; I’m recanting that in 2020 as a full four stars, because a blu-ray re-watch reminds me that this largely unseen and wildly underrated action movie is just balls-to-the-wall great. If you think John Wick 2 and 3 look fantastic, and you’d be correct to feel that way, here’s cinematographer Dan Laustsen honing his craft in this medieval sword and sorcery action movie from the fertile mind of Conan and Red Sonja creator Robert E Howard. We’re all late to the party in terms of Michael J Bassett’s movie, but it’s never too late to join the fan-club for a film like Solomon Kane.
We open in unfamiliar territory; a sea-battle off the coast of Africa in 1600. English mercenary Solomon Kane (James Purefoy) storms a castle in style, only to be confronted with The Devil’s Reaper, a demon who has come to collect his soul as a consequence of his immoral life-style. Kane returns to England, but can’t shake his fate, even after becoming a pacifist. Kane throws in his lot with a humble couple (Pete Postlethwaite and Alice Krige) and their daughter Meredith (Rachel Hurd Wood). Meredith’s parents are murdered by a masked creature known as Malachi, and Kane swears revenge, knowing that by doing so, he’ll eventually forfeit his soul…
For a movie to truly click, a lot has to go right. Purefoy is an unfamiliar lead, ideal given that Kane is a troubled, Puritan believer, hardly a typical action hero. Max von Sydow has a couple of lively scenes as Kane’s father, while Mackenzie Crook has a nice bit as a deceptive friend/fraud along the way. The action is ferocious and bloody, but light on CGI; Bassett does a nice job of filling the frame with real countryside rather than virtual armies, and the film looks spectacular without over-doing the fantasy worlds. And for once, this really isn’t for kids; Kane pulling himself bloodily down from a crucifixion isn’t for the faint-hearted.
Solomon Kane seems to have had a few legal issues that delayed the US release for three years, and probably scuppered any chances of proper recognition. But it’s a big, action picture that has blood, guts, monsters and a pretty cool fire-demon for the climax. It’s also got a tight back story, and really might have caught on if a trilogy had followed. I blew 50p on a blu-ray of this, remembering it as being a cut above average for the genre, and would encourage anyone to do the same; what Citizen Kane is to classic movies, Solomon Kane is to bad-ass action.