DAVID VON ANCKEN’S SERAPHIM FALLS — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Tipping its hat to Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales while recalling certain masculine aspects of Sydney Pollack’s epic adventure Jeremiah Johnson and portions of Man in the Wilderness from director Richard Sarafian, the 2006 films Seraphim Falls was ruggedly and forcefully directed by David Von Ancken, a TV veteran who made an auspicious feature debut with this rough and violent revisionist Western that benefited from contemporary production values while exploring time-honored themes of revenge, personal survival, and feverish bloodlust. While watching it, you can see how it might have set some sort of template for last year’s Oscar winning masterpiece The Revenant from challenging filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu. Von Ancken co-wrote the terse and effective screenplay with Abby Everett Jaques, with the action centering on two men pitted against each other in a bounty hunt to the death. The time is the late 1860’s, and a Union solider (Pierce Brosnan) has become the prey for a Confederate colonel (Liam Neeson), while the excellent supporting cast including Michael Wincott, Tom Noonan, Kevin J. O’Connor, Ed Lauter, Xander Berkely, Wes Studi, Angie Harmon, and Anjelica Houston filled the edges of the intense and sometimes physically overwhelming narrative. John Toll’s superb cinematography shot for the epic at all times, while still getting down-and-dirty personal when called for, while the tight and economical editing by Conrad Buff kept the film moving at a brisk yet coherent clip. The pulse quickening musical score by Harry Gregson-Williams accentuated every scene without ever becoming overbearing, while both Neeson and Brosnan were perfectly suited as mortal adversaries, with a narrative outcome that’s both surprising and satisfying in equal measure. After premiering at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival, Seraphim Falls received a very limited theatrical release (I saw it at the Arclight in Los Angeles in a mostly empty theater), this is one of those rarely discussed films that certainly deserves to find a new set of fans, as it will certainly delight those who love a gritty, action-packed period piece with piss ‘n vinegar to spare. Seraphim Falls is available on DVD and on a UK-release Blu-ray that does happen to be a region free disc.

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