For a few strong moments, it appeared likely that the new Western, Seraphim Falls, might be the film publicized in TV commercials as “the first great movie of 2007.” But as Seraphim falls, so falls Seraphim Falls.
Director David von Ancken, a TV veteran of The Shield, Cold Case and CSI: New York, brings together two actors who wouldn’t necessarily be everyone’s first choice for a post-Civil War western. The casting of Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson, it turns out, is perfect, particularly in the case of Brosnan, who, following up last year’s sensational creation in The Matador, is well on his way to re-establishing his career as something beyond Bond.
We know very little as the story of Seraphim Falls begins to unfold. Gideon (Brosnan) has trapped his day’s meal in the snowy mountains of the American West when a shot rings out, severely wounding his shoulder. He doesn’t know who’s hunting him, but Gideon senses it’s no accident.
It’s not; Gideon’s Spidey Sense is true. Morsmon Carver (Neeson) and a band of hired guns are after the lone trapper, for reasons that are unclear to us as well as to the wounded man. The first day and night of the chase, which stretches into the 20 to 25 minute range, is as good as you’ll see this kind of stalking in a movie. There’s almost no dialogue, it’s all set against the bleak backdrop of the dead of winter, and when there’s action, it’s only the action required. It’s a terrific bit of filmmaking.
And while Seraphim Falls can’t keep up that pace for very long (eventually, we need to know more about the characters and why Carver is chasing Gideon), it’s the kind of suspenseful, isolated Western that the genre could use more of. There are shades of Josey Wales here, a touch of Unforgiven there. And it's probably not by accident.
By the end of the film, snow has turned to blinding sunlight and the lifeless mountains have become lifeless desert. It looks like neither man, battered by each other, the conditions, and a shared memory that has once again flung them together, has enough strength to live much past their encounter. And while the position of the characters registers easily, there are some external oddities that are better left ignored.
Of course, we should be grateful that Seraphim Falls isn’t like most contemporary Westerns. We just have to take the bad with the good in this case, but there is an awful lot of good.