Seraphim Falls (2006)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

 

Is it impossible in modern times to make a good western? It sure seems like the western is a dying breed. For the first hour and a half, I thought Seraphim Falls was a great western. It had all the proper ingredients. Then, it wasn't, and turned into a metaphorical, allegorical mess.

 

In the icy mountains, a man named Gideon (Pierce Brosnan) is running for his life. Hot on his trail are a band of hired guns, led by the no-nonsense, out-for-blood Carver (Liam Neeson). He is determined to lay his hands on him -- but tells his men not to shoot to kill. Most of them think this is a bad idea, particularly when one by one they start getting taken out. Revenge is a motivator for one man, a guilt-stricken desire to live what keeps the other moving forward. They chase one another across mountain ranges, through passes and into enemy territories before coming to a final confrontation.

 

There is not a lot of plot here. In fact, almost the entire movie is one man chasing another, with the audience trying to piece together the reasons why. When it does come to pass that we find out what happened between them at Seraphim Falls, we understand both men and even find ourselves rooting for both of them -- which leaves us in an awkward position. Much of it is terrific -- it's well paced and has some truly astonishing acting from its leads. There's just the right blend of suspense, fear, and suspicion, as well as a host of characters that pass through their lives and leave an impression (such as the boy who doesn't talk, the Indian at the watering hole, and yes, even the creepy tonic sales woman).

 

But then, the script takes a sharp turn into general weirdness. My first hint of it was when it had me questioning whether or not the missionaries they ran into along the way were actual missionaries, a band of thieves who had killed the missionaries, or the ghosts of long-dead missionaries. Then, we run into a character out of mythology who adds nothing other than general confusion, and finally at the end of the movie we're left wondering, "What just happened?" One character is meant to be the devil... is she a literal devil, or did our two main characters die in the desert and finish out their story in purgatory? What is their reasoning for their final decision and why does the film conclude the way it does?

 

Movies that have to resort to director's commentaries to explain not only their scripts but their motivations have done a poor job with the narrative. Westerns should be either straight up westerns or a mocking parody of the genre. Audiences don't like changing horses mid-stream, paying to see a proper revenge and horses tale that becomes little more than poorly constructed mysticism in the end. It's just... bad. There's no other way to say it.

 

  

Sexual Content:

A young woman is shoved down onto a table and threatened with rape if she doesn't talk.

  

Language:

8 uses of GD, two muffled f-words, general profanities, several abuses of Jesus' name.

  

Violence:

Infrequent but bloody; a knife goes through the top of a man's head; a knife goes through a man's throat; men are shot at (blood spurts); a dead man is cut open so another man can insert his hand into his guts (to get warm); a horse is shot; a horse has its throat cut (some blood); a man jumps out of a gutted horse (we see entrails all over the ground in a very long sequence) to ambush someone.

 

Other:

Missionaries "steal" bullets out of guns (it's unclear the reason why). There are some nasty things said about religion and God in general.