TIFF: “Seraphim Falls”

The film festival is over but I’m still catching up. Last Wednesday evening I caught the (world?) premiere of Seraphim Falls, a western starring Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson. Though everything else is starting to blur — it feels as though it’s been ages since I saw the film — several scenes from this still stand out prominently. There are some truly memorable moments in Seraphim Falls. Unfortunately, the film as a whole is a lot harder to take. I’m undecided where I stand with it.

It starts off well enough. Brosnan’s character is being chased through the snowy mountains by Neeson’s character and a posse of trackers. You don’t know why he’s chasing him, but you know he means business. The unpleasant kind of business. He’s nearly caught right at the start but manages to escape, the trackers catch up, he kills one of them and escapes again, eventually setting on some ranchers cabin where he stays the night. After taking off with their horse in the morning, the trackers arrive, cause some trouble, and resume the pursuit.

This is when the movie starts to weaken. The further they get away from the mountains and closer to the desert, the more it starts to breakdown as it settles into a repetitive pattern. Brosnan’s character comes upon a situation. The trackers catch up. A little drama happens. Brosnan’s character escapes. Repeat. First it’s a gang of bank robbers. Then some settlers. Then a chain gang. Then missionaries. Then a mystical indian. And then, in the end, I’m not sure what the hell they get into.

The deeper they travel into the desert, the more symbolic the movie becomes, ending with an almost surreal sequence. I don’t have a problem with symbolism or mysticism in a film — even a western, as it worked in High Plains Drifter — it’s just that the slow progression away from the brutal realism that starts the film creeps up on you that by the end it feels almost like a different movie.

There are still those great scenes (the horse part — you’ll know when you see it) and it’s worthy of a viewing, but if you want a good new western, I’d suggest the recent (and more modern) Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada instead.

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