If any recent film was going to put some some lead back into the pistol of the aging and impotent Western genre, it would probably have been the gritty, face-in-the-dirt Aussie jawbreaker, The Proposition, but box office bounty and mainstream critical recognition somehow slipped the noose. Expect no better results from this week's Seraphim Falls, a film that simultaneously sports an impressive cast that has the clear intention of doing good work and also skirts dangerously close to being a classic 'January dump' -- a film rushed into theaters at a time scientifically calculated to cause the least embarrassment to the studio. How does it achieve this double act? Here's a hint -- you won't find out as long as you leave after the first hour and a half, or so. A quiet, bitter chase film set among the ruins of the Civil War -- Eastwood's superior The Outlaw Josey Wales was an obvious influence -- Seraphim Falls eventually takes a wild, up-on-two-wheels turn into allegory and near-camp in the third act, finishing up as something almost 'Twilight Zone'-like.
It's frankly incredible that Seraphim, from first-timer David Von Ancken, was given the greenlight as a Western, when you consider that its proto-simple story, about one man wordlessly chasing another through the wilderness, could easily have been put through sausage machine and come out the other side as a horror story, or a mob story, or a police procedural. Liam Neeson plays a pursuer who ultimately fails to live up to his sinister name, Carver, and Pierce Brosnan, sporting a scraggly beard that's more beatnik than Bond, plays Gideon, a Union captain who must have done something pretty awful to deserve being chased through the high peaks and low desert of New Mexico by Neeson's character. Despite being explicitly set in the aftermath of the war between North and South, the film is oddly agnostic when it comes to context -- there's almost never a moment when the director impresses us with a thought or a visual idea about that war. John Toll's cinematography is beautiful, as always, but it's so divorced of context that it's only travelogue-beautiful.