Seraphim Falls

An American western starring two Irishmen? That’s the kind of fun to be had with “Seraphim Falls,” a rough-n-ready adventure film that’s paced like a snail, but thoroughly entertaining and gruesome. “Seraphim Falls” is a western with a foundation of simplicity. Imagine that, no rotund subplots, no twist endings, and no tail-chasing. It’s just two great actors dashing around the countryside trying to slice each others’ throats.

After the end of the Civil War, Gideon (Pierce Brosnan) is on the run. On his tail is a posse led by the ruthless Carver (Liam Neeson), who stalks the land searching for any sign of the wanted man. Gideon, bruised and battered, relies on his instincts to help him survive, but time is closing in on him and Carver’s obsession draws him nearer to the revenge he’s been nursing since the war ended.

“Falls” comes in part from Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions, which seems appropriate as the film is basically a Civil War “Apocalypto” with the one element that Gibson’s recent film was lacking: a vague impression of taste.

“Falls” is a stark, icy chase film that exploits the western genre wonderfully as it rolls out a story that’s fat-free and assuredly told. Director David Von Acken, along with ace cinematographer John Toll (“Legends of the Fall”), creates claustrophobia out of wide open spaces, using the treacherous mountains and deserts of America as the bear trap that constantly thwarts Gideon’s escape plans. This is an arresting film, eschewing traditional Civil War desolation for the freezing dangers of the snow and the slow drain of the sun.

“Falls” is stocked full with adventure, but this is not a briskly-paced picture. Von Acken elects for a more methodical approach to the story; the script is filled with bloody acts of survival and murder, and is extensively one long chase sequence, but “Falls” stalks along in the best western fashion. These grizzled men are patient; just waiting for their moment to strike, and the director respects that tension in the prowl.

To the film’s credit, it does have two incredible actors facing off against each other. Especially Brosnan, who appears delighted to have a shot at getting filthy and baking in the heat. Neeson puts on his best Clint Eastwood face, growling his distaste for the hired help gathered to assist the capture, and relentless in his passion to bring Gideon to his knees. Who would’ve though hiring two Irishmen would work out so well for an American westernr

The screenplay takes a strange spiritual turn in the final act. At this point, if you’ve felt even the faintest tremor of impatience, this detour will drive you mad. Von Acken successfully halts the already glacial pace of the picture to sort out some unexpected troubles of the soul, bringing in Wes Studi and Anjelica Huston to portray the serpents who offer the men their salvation. The final 20 minutes reduces “Falls” to a staring contest, but hey, it’s a wonderfully convincing staring contest.

Rating: B+