A sturdy B-picture with an A-list cast, Seraphim Falls will divert Western fans starved of big-screen adventure. At the same time, it doesn’t ever present a particularly compelling reason why it should exist. If it’d been made in the ’50s, it would have starred Glenn Ford and Van Helfin. Instead, we get Liam Neeson as an ex-Confederate colonel hunting down Pierce Brosnan as the Union captain who done him wrong. Neeson’s motivation is deliberately kept obtuse in brief flashbacks building to the conclusion, though viewers with a passing knowledge of the American Civil War on-screen (The Outlaw Josey Wales, Shenandoah) and off won’t find the revelation surprising.
In fact, surprises are scarce altogether in the feature debut of TV director David Von Ancken (CSI: NY, Cold Case), whose script feels overstretched even at the relatively modest 111-minute running time. Simply put, there isn’t enough story: a failing which the final act tries to compensate for with an unsatisfying stab at a hallucinatory tone: cue an Oliver Stone-style sagacious Indian and medicine-flogging Anjelica Huston (who actually says, without a trace of irony, “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, right?”).
The preceding chase through snowy mountains and parched plains does have its moments, ably captured by The Thin Red Line lensman John Toll. It’s also well cast: no one does hollowed-out regret quite like Neeson, the bearded Brosnan manages to make you forget Bond most of the time, and Michael Wincott is terrifically vulgar as a hired gun who tells the posse’s youngest member (Elephant’s John Robinson) that you spell woman “W-H-O-R-E”.
For those of us who adore horse operas, there’s also the hope that if a picture as low-concept as this has been greenlit, the long-mooted western comeback must be on its way.
In the meantime David Von Ancken’s sincere, straightforward picture isn’t an unappealing proposition – it is just some way short of The Proposition.