In the year 1600, Solomon Kane (James Purefoy) was a captain of an English ship fighting the Spaniards off the coast of Africa, and he relished the killing, never happier than when he was sending someone to their grave. However, just as he had won this battle, he charged the castle of his enemy with his men, and they made short work of the soldiers there - the mortal soldiers, that is, as when they ventured further up the tower they encountered creatures, demons let's call them, who picked off some of Kane's best fighters. Once he reached the top, he was trapped in a throne room, and the devil's envoy there had some bad news for him...
That's right, bad luck Solomon, your soul has been earmarked for Hell itself, and for your sins you will spend eternity in unimaginable torment. Cuh. Understandably none too pleased with this news, our hero renounces his wicked ways and pledges allegiance to the Lord God in the hope that if he never kills another person he will be allowed to live out his days, and eternity, in peace. Well, it wouldn't be a very exciting film if he spent the rest of the running time praying in his monk's cell, so after a year of life in the monastery, the abbott (Robert Russell) tells him to go and find his destiny, although quite why he asked, nay demanded, this of him is not very clear.
Reluctantly Solomon heads off back home to the West (Purefoy's Somerset accent is in full effect), where we see in flashback that he was once heir to a castle and its surrounding lands, except his brother forced his father (Max von Sydow) to send Kane away for religious teachings so he could bag the lot. One argument on a clifftop later, and the brother was at the bottom of a steep drop and Solomon had headed off to join the navy, not wishing to look back at what he had lost. However, our theme here is redemption, and that involves making amends for your past crimes, so simply praying them away will not work, and Kane must enact a more hands on approach to getting his soul back on track.
Hands on sword, that is, as he may start out his journey homewards with only his staff and backpack, but he ends up a full on warrior for the Almighty. The Solomon Kane stories originally were written by Robert E. Howard, best known as creator of Conan the Barbarian, and as such enjoyed a very proactive take on Christianity, with the result that the film version appears to support all those witchhunts that blighted the land in those plague-ridden times. If this tends to make you think twice about fully endorsing the movie, and it does appear to take the godbothering seriously as far as its characters go, then rest assured director and writer Michael J. Bassett made it clear that what you were watching was a fantasy.
So there was nobody in this saying string up your neighbour because your cow has stopped giving milk, as the location the adventures played out in was obviously not the real world, and some phantasmagorical area balancing between Heaven and Hell, with Solomon as the link across them. Be warned, this is no camp sword and sorcery that you might have watched in the eighties, and there is barely a moment of laughter or even levity throughout the whole story: a rich atmosphere of grimness and austerity lies heavily over the events. Perhaps too heavily, as there's little joyous about what we see; it's not a slog to watch, but it's not going to cheer you up especially either. For many, this sincerity of tone was what made it stand out, and its industrious use of a medium budget was to be admired. All those stars showing up in small roles can be distracting, but overall Solomon Kane was a noble addition to a subgenre that had to that point rarely sustained the mark it intended to make. Music by Klaus Badelt (nice theme).