Director David Von Ancken
's first feature after a lengthy stint in television shows his influence and experience without the slightest sense of shading. Out of the gate, Von Ancken found himself at the helm of Law & Order disciples CSI: NY and Cold Case, not to mention HBO's seminal Oz, and has been making his living at these shows ever since. Now, faced with a tale of post-Civil War vengeance, Ancken not only has to deal with the problem of sustaining fluidity, but of heftier emotional weight.
Gideon (Pierce Brosnan
) hides in the snowy drifts of the Ruby Mountains in northern Nevada. His hide has become a sought-after item; after a misunderstanding in the final days of the Civil War, Gideon's cold ignorance caused the unneeded death of one man's family. That man in question, Carver (Liam Neeson
), has hired a trio of bandits to hunt down Gideon and exact what Carver sees as very just revenge. Article continues below
Much like Mel Gibson
's misbegotten Apocalypto
, Seraphim Falls takes its surroundings and time period simply as hallmark images to frame what is, sadly, a rather rudimentary look at vengeance and survival. Putting aside the outfits washed in waves of dirt and the small spurts of dialogue, the film could have taken place at any time and seems uninterested in exploring how the world the men inhabit and their time period affect their decisions.
There's also a timid nature to the camerawork that sticks out. As Carver and his band of miscreants trails Gideon, they stomp through snowy mountains, faith-based wagon towns, and cracked-earth deserts. These areas seem flat and lacking character under Von Ancken and cinematographer John Toll, who somehow is also responsible for the shattering imagery of Terrence Malick's revelatory The Thin Red Line.
The bland photography puts acute pressure on the actors to keep things popping, and most of the actors seem to take their roles with a passive grasp of character. Michael Wincott
, an actor who oozes menace, is regulated as a rather forgettable sidekick to Carver, where he would have been more at home with the role of Carver. When Carver's men start getting picked off, the action gives a slight pulse to what is mostly a tepid pool up until then. After the final (and best) death scene, the two men, both visited by a strange bargainer (a particularly wasted Anjelica Huston
), face each other for a showdown.
Seraphim Falls brings a hammering reminder that Westerns can still be made under tired eyes and loose constructs. Where the last few years have brought some strong evocations of the genre (The Proposition
, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada) and just last week we were blessed by Tears of the Black Tiger, Von Ancken seems to take the basics of his genre as reassurance that he doesn't have to try as hard to make them work. As it is, Von Ancken can't seem to get his concentration away from the episodic nature of the small screen.