Seraphim Falls (4/10)
by Tony Medley
OK, so Pierce Brosnan and
Liam Neeson aren’t Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole. But they are both
relatively good actors and one would think that a movie highlighting the
two of them would also be relatively good. One would be wrong. For
awhile, it’s pretty good. Then we get to the half hour ending, which
undoes all the good that came before.
The movie is replete with
incredible plot devices. Consider:
- Gideon (Brosnan) gets shot in one arm, so
bad that the arm is disabled for the rest of the movie. Despite
this, he climbs a huge tree even though there are no low branches.
Tarzan would find it daunting. But Gideon does it...with one arm!
- When up in the tree, and it looks as if
he’s at least 20 feet up, he drops a knife on a guy looking for him
that lands in the middle of the guy’s skull, splitting it. Sometime
in a movie I want to see someone try some real long shot like this
and miss. This is a one in a hundred shot, but Gideon does it.
- Gideon tries to steal a horse but is caught
by a young woman who holds a shotgun on him. He falls to the ground
because of the pain in his arm, and she puts down her gun, goes over
to him, takes him in and cares for him. Yeah, sure.
- Gideon makes a truly ingenious trap and
goes on his way, again using only one arm. The trap works perfectly.
His pursuers take exactly the same path he took, even though they
don’t know where he is or where he’s going, and one guy gets slammed
by the trap exactly as Gideon intended.
- He guts a horse and hides inside. I mean,
he completely takes the innards out of the horse so that he fits
inside the carcass. Don’t forget, this guy can only use one arm.
These are just a few. But
even worse than all these, Brosnan mumbles so much the film needs
subtitles to understand his dialogue.
The plot is pretty good.
Carver (Neeson) with his posse, Hayes (Michael Wincott), Parsons (Ed
Lauter), Pope (Robert Baker), and Kid (John Robison), is pursuing
Gideon, but we don’t know why. The film starts in the mountains in the
dead of winter. The pursuit only takes a few days, but the film ends in
the middle of a desert in the middle of summer (the film was shot
entirely on location in New Mexico, except for the raging river and
waterfall, which was shot at Koosah and Sahalie Falls and at McKenzie
Bridge in Oregon). When they are traversing the desert, where are they
going? In fact, throughout the entire movie they are in wilderness, not
on any trail, but it’s never explained where they are going, or why.
Regardless, they traverse lots of diverse scenery and it’s beautifully
shot by John Toll.
What’s good about the movie
is that it’s a mystery until the end as to why Carver is out to get
Gideon. If this had ended with a “High Noon” shootout, it would have
been a good movie.
Alas, it doesn’t. After we
learn what’s really going on, about 90 minutes in, the movie continues
for another 25 minutes that are excruciating, exacerbated by their
silliness. From a good chase movie it turns into some sort of allegory
on revenge with characters appearing out of nowhere with no raison
d’être, like Madame Louise (Angelica Huston), who drives up in the
middle of the desert in what looks like the Surrey With the Fringe on
Top, but without the fringe.
Earlier both Gideon and
Carver run into an Indian at a water hole who apparently has nothing
better to do than sit by himself alone puffing his pipe out in the
middle of nowhere waiting for people to come so he can dispense obtuse
philosophy while selling the right to use the water.
Director-writer (with Abby
Jaques Everett) David Von Ancken tried to make a chase movie with a
message, an anti-war theme. In the middle of the film are two lines of
dialogue that stands as the theme of the movie. One of the posse asks
Carver, looking at two corpses, “What the hell were they doin’ out
Carver replies, “Certain kind
of decision. Once a man makes it he can end up nowhere but here.”
The characters of both Carter
and Gideon are inconsistent with what we learn about them. One reason
for this is to develop a plot, of course. In a mystery, a director must
use sleight of hand to get us to believe in a certain way so that we
will be surprised when we learn the truth. But their inconsistency mars
Unfortunately, Van Ancken
based the anti-war theme of the movie on the American Civil War, the war
that caused more casualties to Americans than any ever fought (623,000
deaths). But, considering that it ended slavery in America, who is to
say that the Civil War was not a war with a purpose or a positive
outcome? Some wars are unavoidable, like the Revolutionary War, the
Civil War, and World War II, all wars that made the world a better
place, even though they caused enormous suffering and personal
tragedies. Rather than attacking war itself, people like Van Ancken
would be better off to attack the people and events that caused the
wars, like the British political system that abused the colonists, the
South and Robert E. Lee for the institution of slavery and forcing a war
to defend it, and aggressors Hitler, Mussolini, and Imperial Japan for
World War II.
This is a pretty good movie
for 90 minutes. It’s undone by the last half hour, which left me wishing
I hadn’t wasted my time.