Conan wasn’t the only literary bad ass created by Robert Howard; the author was also responsible for the lesser known Puritan hero Solomon Kane. Although possessing a staunch morality, Kane was every bit as fierce as the famed barbarian. It’s a shame “Solomon Kane” sits on the shelf with no US release date, it’s an adaptation that would make Howard grin from ear to ear–wherever he is in the afterlife.
When the film opens, Kane is not yet a scourge of evil–quite the opposite in fact. A merciless privateer, he finds himself confronted by the Devil’s Reaper seeking his soul as part of a “deal”. It turns out the deal the Reaper refers to is Solomon’s life of murder and pillage, God has forsaken him and now the Devil wants his due. Fighting off the Reaper and narrowly escaping, Kane dramatically changes. Joining a monastery, he gives all his ill-gotten wealth to the church and renounces violence. But the quiet cleric life is not in the cards for Kane. He’s asked to leave after not exactly fitting in with the isolated monks, and takes to the road. He encounters the Puritan Crowthorn family, who become his traveling companions and soon friends. From them he acquires his signature Puritan garb, that will become his trademark in later adventures. But the peaceful journey is short-lived, as the travelers fall afoul of the evil Malachi’s marauders. The Crowthorn’s daughter is carried off, which proves to be a huge mistake for anyone working for Malachi. Solomon Kane evolves into what he was destined to be, a peerless destroyer of evil and unrelenting protector of the innocent. Wiping out Malachi’s lackeys, he battles to confront the man himself–only to find out it’s someone he knows too well.
Writer and director Michael Bassett is smart enough to make “Solomon Kane” as an origin story. Most are unfamiliar with the character, so we get to see his transformation from murderous pirate, to pacifist monk, and finally an almost warrior priest. He also wisely steers clear of the perceived racism that many readers noted, especially in Kane’s African adventures. Instead, we get demons, vampires, slavers, pirates, and terrific action sequences. The CGI unfortunately doesn’t match the quality of the filmmaker’s imaginations. The opening scene featuring demons leaping out of mirrors is pretty effective, and the Devil’s Reaper is frightening enough to convert Aleister Crowley to Christianity. But the giant fiery demon Kane faces at the conclusion looks somewhat artificial and non-threatening, the Stay Puff Marsh-mellow Man would be scarier.
As Solomon Kane, James Purefoy immerses himself in the role so much you’d think he really was Kane. Watching Purefoy, you truly believe he was a man scared straight by a visitor from Hell. His character changes dramatically over the film, yet the entire time he is believable. At the film’s end, Purefoy is transformed, becoming truly Robert Howard’s Kane–pity future adventures seem unlikely. The supporting cast back up Purefoy to an excellent degree. Jason Flemyng is irredeemably evil as Malachi, Pete Postlethwaite and Alice Krige serve nicely as the kindly Crowthorn parents. Max von Syndow has a nice cameo as Kane’s harsh father, and Lucas Stone is effective in flashbacks as a young Solomon Kane. It’s quite amazing to see Kane as an innocent young boy, then compare him to the man he was, is, and will be.
The cinematography by Dan Laustsen captures the feel of Howard’s stories, where evil lurks everywhere and purity is a commodity rarer than gold. It’s a hard zeitgeist to capture, but Laustsen snares it and plasters it over the entire production. Klaus Badlet’s musical score is appropriately brooding and somber, nicely underlining what goes onscreen. Creature effects were supplied by Tatopoulos Studios, and are good enough to make anyone forget they were associated with the “Godzilla” remake.
Granted, “Solomon Kane” isn’t exactly like the source material, the storyline is focused more on one general location, instead of having Kane go all over the place rooting out evil. But letting us see Kane’s transformation from villainy to heroics is pretty thrilling. The film captures the world Kane existed in amazingly well, and when Solomon Kane becomes THE Solomon Kane, he’s exactly that and not a pale imitation. One thing’s for certain, Robert Howard would be proud.
Michael J. Bassett (director) / Michael J. Bassett (screenplay), Robert E. Howard (character)
CAST: James Purefoy … Solomon Kane
Christian Dunckley Clark … Lieutenant Malthus
Ian Whyte … Devil’s Reaper
Max von Sydow … Josiah Kane
Rachel Hurd-Wood … Meredith Crowthorn
Patrick Hurd-Wood … Samuel Crowthorn
Pete Postlethwaite … William Crowthorn
Alice Krige … Katherine Crowthorn
Anthony Wilks … Edward Crowthorn