Monday, November 19, 2007

Monday Movie Review: Seraphim Falls

Seraphim Falls (2006) 5/10
A trapper named Gideon (Pierce Brosnan) is shot by Carver, a man from his past (Liam Neeson), seeking to settle an unknown grudge from the Civil War.

Most of Seraphim Falls is Neeson's pursuit of Brosnan, and Brosnan's desperate flight of survival. Shot in the shoulder, he barely uses the arm at all for the length of the film, and the pursuit and flight have a brutal sort of realism. The cinematography is iconically Western, and enjoyable. Dialogue is sparse. Brosnan is almost entirely alone; Neeson interacts with the men he has hired to help him in his pursuit, but there's nothing in the way of musing about the past or swapping yarns or anything like that. These men embody the laconic Western anti-hero, and we watch with interest. Unable to determine right or wrong, we let our sympathies fall in the middle. Brosnan makes the interesting choice of gasping and crying out in pain as he flees from his (at that time) unknown shooter; he's tough as they come, so you expect a typical macho stoicism. He doesn't have it. He's hard, he's smart, he's an incredible survivor, but he gasps and cries out and weeps. Meanwhile, Neeson is relentless and single-minded. Thus, your sympathy moves towards Brosnan. At the same time, you definitely are aware that Neeson has some good reason for his vendetta, that he feels he is the wronged party. This isn't some villain out to avenge some villainous deed.

There's no doubt, as you watch this very silent, beautifully bare movie, that the explanation will only come when the two at last meet. And indeed, this is what happens. Unfortunately, the back story we're given, after all that wait, is merely okay. It answers some questions but is bare in places it should not be. It skews towards making Neeson's character too much the cliché of sweetness and light. But okay, it was a good-looking movie, appealingly tough, and I was willing to have a back story, an ending, and call it a night.

But no.

Shortly before the final showdown, there were a couple of scenes with a group of pilgrims that made no sense to me. They felt strangely episodic, and reminded me of Dead Man. (I never want to be reminded of Dead Man.)

Turned out that was a prophetic reminder. After what I thought was the film's denouement, it keeps going. Only now it's mystical. That's right, the gritty realism gives way to sudden appearances by characters speaking cryptically with pseudo-wisdom. And one of them is Anjelica Huston. There's a lot of that. If there was a little, I'd be like, Oh this is a good movie that I recommend, but ignore the ending. But the ending isn't the ending, it's approximately the final third of the movie. And that's just wrong.

After I endured all this nonsense, Arthur pointed out that "seraphim" is, itself, a mystical term; seraphim are the many-eyed angels who sit beside God in heaven. So "Seraphim Falls" = Fallen Angels. What. Ev. Er.

Look. People. I mean you, you movie-making people. Make a good movie with meaning. Don't structure a meaning and then shoehorn the movie into it. Don't assume your audience is so numb to meaning that we can't tell there's any in your film unless you broadcast it with neon This! Is! The! Meaning! signs.

It's your fault you made me take most of the points away from this movie. Meet me halfway, people.

(Direct, not even a little mystical, cross-post)