Seraphim Falls

In the making-of documentary about Seraphim Falls, Liam Neeson notes that he and Pierce Brosnan are two Irish boys playing cowboys in the American West in 1868. While watching the movie, you probably won't notice their accents, or lack thereof, but you will wish that two fine Irish actors had come together to make a better Western. The complete failure of the theatrical release of Seraphim Falls is difficult to fathom on the surface. It didn’t wow critics but it had some positive reviews. It starred two popular actors, Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan, both of whom have had their share of box office successes. It’s a Western, which has a built in audience. It certainly didn’t have blockbuster written all over it but it ended up with a very limited release which nobody went to (it grossed about $500,000 in the U.S.) and then disappeared to find a new audience on DVD.

Don’t rush to be that audience, however. The people who stayed away from the theaters were onto something. While the story from the post-Civil War West boasts good performances and beautiful scenery, the plot meanders endlessly along without doing anything original. A bitter former Confederate Colonel Carver (Neeson) and his posse of four men ambush Gideon (Brosnan) in the mountains and chase him relentlessly. Gideon, a former Union captain, proves both resourceful and deadly in a series of encounters but is worn down (as are his pursuers) by the violence and the changing environmental conditions.

The length of the chase allows first-time feature director/co-writer David Von Ancken and cinematographer John Toll to produce some of the most amazing vistas since movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Covering snow-capped mountains, grassy prairies, and vacant desert, the scenes of men on horseback in wide-open country makes you want to grab your saddle and git to ridin’. But there isn’t much more to the plot than the chase, which is something any Western fan has seen many times over. Near the end of the movie, the whole thing takes a misplaced turn as Von Ancken tries to have the two men stand in for a bigger theme of anti-war. Peacenicks might eat it up, but mostly it feels forced in, underexplained, and, along with a supernatural twist, out of place with what has gone before.

Brosnan gives a good performance of a man trying to atone for past sins (which led to Neeson’s pursuit) but is basically solitary for much of the film and doesn’t speak at all for the first 25 minutes. When you see some events from his past and try to gage their effect on him now, it’s hard to care much since he hasn’t revealed himself to any great extent. Neeson also does well as a man bent on revenge and letting little get in his way. His posse is filled with good character actors (Ed Lauter, Michael Wincott, John Robinson) but he comes across as pretty one-dimensional, much like the whole movie.

The ironic thing is that this is a movie that would be better served on the big screen. Some shots are truly breathtaking and the natural beauty of New Mexico is put on display in a way any Tourism Board would kill for. It would have been nice to see it, and the lead performances, serve a more compelling or original story. It’s ok to say that war sucks and to use a Western to do it, but don’t copy every Western that has come before. A movie’s complete failure at the box office isn’t good news, obviously, but it doesn’t have to spell doom on DVD. Some films don’t achieve cult status on DVD but at least find a bigger audience willing to take a chance on something they can add to their Netflix queue rather than shell out $10.50 for in the theater. The worse the box office performance, however, the more appealing the studio should make the DVD. In the case of Seraphim Falls, Sony didn’t give anyone an extra incentive to pick up this release.

The only extras are a commentary and a making-of documentary. The studio didn’t appear to think that giving people a little more of their two pretty big stars would attract a few more eyes. During the commentary, Pierce Brosnan mentions a deleted scene that he would love to see with himself and Liam Neeson improvising during their final meeting. The viewer would probably have also enjoyed the scene, but there are no deleted scenes included. This isn’t the type of movie that will garner a special edition, so why the stinginess on any extra looks at Brosnan or Neeson (or the scenery)?

The commentary by Brosnan, director/co-writer David Van Ancken, and production designer Michael Hanan is a nice addition. They all provide some insight into the various aspects of the shoot, although Brosnan sounds a bit bored. He might sound like that all the time, frankly. There isn’t anything special or noteworthy in what they say or their interaction, but Van Ancken discusses the locations and it does enhance the viewing experience.

The making-of documentary is about 18 minutes long and is perfunctory in every way. It was obviously created as a short marketing tool for the film so it covers every area (casting, script, costumes, stunts) a little bit but nothing in-depth. The stunts and cinematography could have their own 15 or 20 minute episodes. Why not splice together some interviews and behind-the-scenes footage and really give someone a reason to watch. The puff-piece included would never draw anyone to the DVD.

This movie looks great. The transfer is crisp and clear other than a slight pause when the layer changes, it has no technical flaws. That said, without a state of the art home system, it’s hard to get the most out of the truly amazing scenery which are the highlight of the film. If you do have the ultra widescreen set-up, it might be fun to just cue up a CD and watch the vistas roll by while the movie's sound is muted.

This is just a situation of too many missed opportunities A better director could have wrung something a little more original out of a pretty good cast. A studio that wanted to bring a few more people to this movie could have put some effort into the extras. A little bit more on everyone’s part would have made this whole production something to recommend. As of now, it just isn’t.