Hollywood doesn't make nearly as many Westerns as they used to, and you know what's great about that? Fewer westerns means fewer bad Westerns, obviously, and I'm a big fat fan of the genre and the relative dearth of titles makes it a bit easier to catch all of them. Every few years a really special one will crop up, be it Kevin Costner's Open Range or John Hillcoat's The Proposition... Heck, I just sat through a fantastic three-hour Western called Broken Trail -- and that one was made for cable!
So I guess you're expecting me to label Seraphim Falls as this year's modern Western mini-classic. Alas, no. But it's a pretty damn entertaining oater all the same, provided you have a soft spot for "greatest hits" medleys of only the most familiar Western conventions -- as I so definitely do. Plus how often do you get to see Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson engaged in an old-school revenge-drenched mega-chase that runs from the top of a frozen mountain to a godforsaken desert that looks like hell's favorite landscape?
The plot is stunningly simple, and therefore part of the flick's appeal: It's five years after the Civil War, and a man called Carver (Liam Neeson) is itching to torture and murder a man named Gideon (Pierce Brosnan). We're not told why Carver wants to punish Gideon so vehemently, but he sure does seem intent on doling out some pain. To that end, Carver has acquired a posse that's overstuffed with cool character actors (Ed Lauter! Michael Wincott!), and the chase is well and duly on. From frozen river to isolated homestead to railroad camp to barren plain, where Gideon runs, Carver (and his gradually dwindling posse) will follow. As expected, we get dribs and drabs of character development and back-story exposition and the pursuit grinds on.
There's a lot to Seraphim Falls that you've seen in other Westerns, but this is a genre known for dealing in stereotypes and established formula, so one could choose to see the flick as a full-on homage to earlier favorites. But to its credit, Seraphim Falls also has its own set of legitimate assets: The stunning cinematography by John Toll, for example, make the flick worthy of note, as do the two lead actors. Two Irishmen in a decidedly American-style Western? Sure, why not? It certainly doesn't hurt that both leads dole out some great work.
If there's a stumbling point, and there almost always is, it's that the movie isn't exactly sure how it wants to end. I'm not about to go spoiling any surprises, but the flick seems to amble right past the finish line, tossing some really strange stuff at us before slowly winding down -- and collapsing. One last pass through the editor's office could have turned a darn good movie into a truly great one, but fans of the genre will almost certainly enjoy it.
Video: It's a really splendid anamorphic widescreen (2.40:1) transfer -- and I'm not in the habit of using the word "splendid" all that often. Suffice to say that if I appreciated the cinematography enough to mention it in my review (and I did), then the DVD transfer is a lot of the reason why.
Audio: Also very strong. Dolby Digital 5.1, with a great balance between the low-key conversations and the aggressively vicious moments of violence.
Extras: The main supplement is an audio commentary with writer/director David Von Ancken, production designer Michael Hanan and Mr. Pierce Brosnan. It's a fairly dry conversation, but it's also full of tidbits and production stories that geeks like me find endlessly fascinating. Also included is a standard-yet-interesting 19-minute "making of" piece in which the cast and crew discuss the concept, the casting, the characters, the production and such.
Clearly inspired by the works of Leone, Peckinpah, Ford and anyone else who's ever helmed a damn fine Western, Seraphim Falls works because of a straight-arrow narrative, a pair of fine performances, a bunch of colorful characters tucked into the background, and a whole lot of really beautiful scenery. If the movie hits a speed-bump in the middle of Act III, and it does, the damage isn't bad enough to mar a generally impressive little Western.