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Seraphim Falls (2006)   rating

Review: written 2008

From hard and gritty, to mythical and allegorical

 Seraphim Falls (2006)

A film of two halves, but with a somewhat uncomfortable join.

This movie starts off with one of the most gritty and riveting hunts in recent memory. Pierce Brosnan's weatherbeaten and hardened ex Union officer is the hunted, and Liam Neeson is the hunter, driven remorselessly by the ghosts of his past. The cold of the mountains, the pain of using a knife to gouge out a bullet and cauterize the wound, the chill of the water, the close quarters kills with the knife, all make for a visceral start with minimal dialogue and little explanation. Each man is completely single minded - one on survival, and one on revenge. As the chase moves onto the plains, we discover more about their past and the reason for the chase, marking a change in tone of the movie. As the plains give way to the desert, the movie takes an altogether more mythical and almost surreal mood, which I would expect to divide audiences. Those expecting an action packed climax to the chase may feel cheated, however what we do get is at the very least thought provoking and I think lingers in the memory much more than a conventional showdown would have.

The director borrows heavily from the greats - the revenge themes of many a Spaghetti Western, with the repeated flashbacks revealing a little more each time we see them reminiscent of Leone, also Ford's `The Searchers', as well as the atmosphere of Eastwood's Westerns. Borrowed the styles may be, but they are put together with a unique voice and vision, albeit in a somewhat hollow way in which the director too often substitutes myth and images for true drama. But what startling images they are! The photography is beautiful, whether it is the stark beauty of the mountains and snow, or the green of the plains or the arid expanses of the desert, and the images of the men facing off, or Angelica Huston in the desert, will stick with you.

 Seraphim Falls (2006)

The musical score to the movie is surprisingly restrained, but is a perfect accompaniment to the story - at first minimalist and sombre in minor keys, reflecting the movies tone of survival and single mindedness, then the score switches to something more traditional as it enters the plains and the sphere of a traditional Western, and finally becomes wistful and dreamlike in the final stages. It's imaginative and subtle, always in the background and never grabbing your attention, but adding immensely to the tone and feel of the movie, almost like another character.

It is the final third of the movie which feels just a little longer than it should, with some ideas dragged out, and with changes of tone which leave the viewer almost feeling like he is being asked to start a new movie. What helps keep the viewer hooked are the leads, who are terrific, the two Irishman fitting into a Western with great assurance. Brosnan in particular makes the most of a very physical role, with much more subtlety than we might expect. Otherwise, a strong supporting cast of character actors is great to watch but frankly is given little of substance to do.

This is a flawed film, to be sure - but nonetheless it achieves what great cinema is supposed to - it stirs the emotions, and makes you think. Recommended.

 Seraphim Falls (2006)

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