The year is 1601, and English mercenary Solomon Kane (Purefoy) encounters a demon, who informs him that his bloodthirsty actions have damned his soul for eternity. Determined to save himself, Kane converts to Puritanism and renounces violence, until the kidnap of a young girl (Hurd-Wood) by an evil sorcerer sets him on the road to redemption.
In 1928, four years before he dreamed up Conan The Barbarian, Texan pulp writer Robert E. Howard gave birth to Solomon Kane, “a sombre and gloomy man of pale face and cold eyes, all of it shadowed by a slouch hat”, who dressed like Van Helsing, fought like Conan, and battled evil as though his very soul depended on it — which, in fact, it did.
Now, some 80 years after Kane’s first appearance in Weird Tales magazine, into his buckled boots steps James Purefoy, who attacks the role with the same gusto Howard’s hero brings to vanquishing evil. Although his native Somerset accent lends some of the script’s purpler prose unintentional comedy value, Purefoy cuts a terrifically intense dash as Kane, effectively managing the transition from amoral killer to tortured soul who, much like the subject of Kenny Rogers’ Coward Of The County, finds that eschewing violence is all very well, but “sometimes you have to fight to be a man”. Max Von Sydow and Pete Postlethwaite add necessary gravitas in supporting roles, although an equally weighty actor would have been welcome in the role of villain: no amount of demonic make-up or CG trickery can make Jason Flemyng remotely threatening.
British writer-director Michael J. Bassett, whose promising debut was the World War I trenches-set chiller Deathwatch, handles the first fully-fledged film adaptation of Howard’s Kane stories with the same level of commitment Peter Jackson brought to the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, the darker moments of which are an obvious influence on Bassett’s film. For less than the effects budget of this year’s other sword ’n’ sorcery adventures, Percy Jackson and Clash Of The Titans, Bassett has delivered a dark-as-balls Highlander for the 21st century, played with such conviction it’s hard not to be swept along.
If weapons and wizardry get your blood up, and you prefer your movies dark and brooding and minus the sandals, Solomon Kane fits the bill. It may lack The Lord Of The Rings majesty, but Robert E. Howard fans will lap it up.