TROUBLE CITY

DVD REVIEW: SERAPHIM FALLS

Home VideoChris WoodComment

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STUDIO: Sony Pictures
MSRP: $26.96
RATED: R
RUNNING TIME: 112 Minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES:
"Behind the Scenes of Seraphim Falls"
Commentary by director David Von Ancken, Pierce Brosnan and production designer Michael Hanan

The Pitch

"First Blood in the Old West!"

The Humans

Liam Neeson (Krull), Pierce Brosnan (Death Train), Michael Wincott (The Crow), Ed Lauter (The Longest Yard), John Robinson (Elephant), Anjelica Huston (The Ice Pirates), Wes Studi (Deep Rising)


"Well, whaddya know, she was right. I did leave it in the backyard."


The Nutshell

Three years after the Civil War, Carver (Neeson) leads a hired gun posse (Wincott, Lauter, Robinson) in relentless, bloody pursuit of Gideon (Brosnan) across the unforgiving American southwest for reasons unknown. The only clue to these hardened killers' past is "Seraphim Falls."

The Lowdown

Westerns of any description are hard to come by these days. I suppose the genre is still reeling from being brutally tag teamed by American Outlaws and Texas Rangers in 2001. Since then Open Range and The Proposition have been the only noteworthy releases.


"I'm tellin' you PETA's out there — watching, waiting."


Like those strong films Seraphim Falls is a stripped down affair that's high on grit and low on pomp. Those hoping for elaborate action set pieces, charismatic monologues, and thundering scores should look elsewhere. This is the western formula boiled down to its very essence, with a bare minimum of dialogue, story, and spectacle to get in the way of rugged men struggling against the elements and each other.

Perhaps some will feel the film is a little too bare in some respects, but this allows the true star to come to the forefront. New Mexico itself handily upstages everything else on the screen with a never-ending procession of stunning natural beauty, ranging from snowcapped peaks to grassy plains to sunbaked desert. All are exquisitely brought to vivid life by cinematographer John Toll, Academy Award winner for Braveheart and Legends of the Fall. I was duped into thinking the characters had traversed half the country.


"Christ, where's a cello when you need one?!"


Harry Gregson-Williams' (Chronicles of Narnia) restrained score is used sparingly to enhance the immersion in nature. In one of the film's tensest moments Gideon is swept by whitewater rapids toward a huge waterfall, and the orchestra stays silent in favor of the roar of the water.

If The Proposition is Australia's answer to the classic western, then Seraphim Falls is Ireland's. Though the film itself is unmistakably American in character, Brosnan, Neeson, and producer David Flynn all hail from the emerald isle, and the supporting cast features Irish Americans such as Huston, Tom Noonan (Manhunter), and Kevin J. O'Connor (The Mummy). Ironically Brosnan's character is captured by a gang of unscrupulous Irishmen, and he resorts to insults of "Paddy" to put the guard off balance before planting a boot right in his lucky charms.


"GAK! OK, George, OK... I'll work with the kid."


The dialogue-light script doesn't allow for much in the way of showy performances, but the cast is solid all around save for the wooden Robinson, who brings to mind Keanu Reeves circa Bill & Ted. Neeson quietly seethes with the usual white-hot intensity, and Wincott is reliably scuzzy in an unfortunately insubstantial role.

If anyone the film belongs to Brosnan, gamely soldiering through what may be the least glamorous and most physically demanding role of his career. Sporting wild hair, a scraggly gray beard, and a tellingly haggard countenance, he is constantly running or riding across rough terrain through temperatures both freezing and boiling. He brilliantly sells a powerful scene in which, dripping wet and half naked, he desperately struggles in the snow to light a fire and then cut a bullet from his arm. It's somewhat of a shock to see the normally stoic ex-007 so vulnerable, here chillingly screaming in agony and later uncontrollably sobbing when reminded of his painful past. Throughout most of the film Brosnan speaks in a hoarse whisper, as if he'd been studying survival techniques by watching On Deadly Ground.


Parking was less a problem than Apaches in Disneyland's early days.


Though there aren't any sustained combat scenes, Seraphim Falls earns its R rating with a series of abrupt bursts of violence. Most notably, after Gideon dispatches a pursuer with a knife to the eyeball he slits the corpse's stomach open so he can warm his hands inside. There's also an innovative and very painful looking kill via flying bear trap. The film's biggest surprise did make me jump a little, but also had me laughing, so I have to score that as a mixed result for the filmmakers.

One decision I can't fathom is writer/director David von Ancken's (Cold Case) awkward inclusion of cameos by Studi and Huston in the final minutes. Apparently they're an effort to add a surreal touch, Huston for example playing a devil figure. However they just feel shoehorned in as if someone called in favors at the last minute to get a couple more name actors on the marquee. Poor Studi pops up out of nowhere, spouts a bit of Mystery Men style pseudo-wisdom, and teleports away in less than a minute.


"I won that fucking elephant fair and square!!"


Von Ancken says he was eager to pay homage to the classic westerns of yesteryear, and he is mostly successful in fashioning just such an old fashioned adventure. As his first feature film Seraphim Falls is an impressive achievement. On the downside his television background is occasionally exposed by moments of dramatic flatness and shallow characterization, and the film's big reveal is a bit of a cliché. That said Neeson, Brosnan, and New Mexico make for a compelling threesome. Although as usual it's not one the girlfriend is likely to appreciate.

The Package

The DVD cover is frankly a little too DTV-ish for comfort, but I suppose if the shoe fits… Anyway one has to imagine the promise of a Neeson/Brosnan duel is hard to pass up. It's a pity theatrical audiences didn't seem to think so.


Later Luke would feel foolish for insisting on blasters at dawn over his sister.


"Behind the Scenes of Seraphim Falls" is a typically shallow promotional piece in which all the actors, no matter how insignificant their parts, try to pretend there's some depth to their characters. To my delight a disinterested Wincott has the refreshing candor to admit his character is simply a hired gun.

I had really looked forward to hearing Brosnan on the commentary, but alas it's a dry, pause-filled affair dominated by Von Ancken. A few interesting anecdotes emerge about weather complications, such as the need to add CG snow to match prior footage.

6.5 out of 10