|A FilmExposed Film Review
Dir: David Von Ancken, 2006, US, 115mins
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Liam Neeson, Michael Wincott, Ed Lauter, Tom Noonan
A film like Seraphim Falls could really use two reviews: the first to rhapsodise about the many things David Von Ancken's post-Civil War thriller does well - from the gorgeous visuals to the excellent performances - while a whole second review could be devoted to the myriad flaws which see the film fall apart in its second hour. To take the positive aspects first, the picture starts brilliantly, with a breathless chase through a snowy mountain forest. The man on the run is Gideon (Brosnan), who stumbles his way across harsh terrain and through raging rivers with a bullet lodged painfully in his shoulder. That bullet was put there by Carver (Neeson) who has spent weeks hunting Gideon with the help of four mercenaries. We don't yet know who these people are or why they are in this situation, but it's gripping stuff nonetheless.
These opening exchanges are put together with a satisfying sense of economy. The first twenty minutes unfold almost wordlessly, with Von Ancken putting his faith in the kinetic thrill of the pursuit and the brilliantly shot locations to draw us into the story. The atmosphere is rich and evocative, paying clear homage to the work of Peckinpah and Leone among others, and the director gives his actors plenty of space to settle in their roles. Neeson brings his customary gravitas to the film, while Brosnan's grittily powerful turn (including an agonising bullet removal sequence) is the most impressive work of his career thus far.
As the film progresses Von Ancken gradually opens the story out. The snowy peaks are left behind as the action moves to wide-open prairies and vast, unforgiving desert plains, and this is where Seraphim Falls runs into trouble. As the ongoing chase begins to lose momentum, Von Ancken tries to take the film into more metaphysical territory, layering on the symbolism in a cluttered and woefully ineffective fashion. We are treated to some inexplicable cameos (Wes Studi and Anjelica Huston), and the film's pacing - so taut in the first half - becomes increasingly sluggish. Von Ancken also makes the mistake of revealing Carver's in a dreadfully staged flashback which feels jarringly out of place.
Von Ancken obviously wants his picture to say something profound about the pointlessness of war and the futility of vengeance, but his messages are muddled and ultimately trite. Seraphim Falls is at its best when it simply focuses on the obsession and all-consuming hatred of two men out for blood, but the director loses sight of that as he strives for a deeper meaning to his story, and he completely loses his grip on the drama in the final scenes. After spending two hours watching Gideon and Carver killing man and beast in their quest for revenge, the pathetic cop-out of an ending we are offered here feels like a particularly perverse move.