With Perlman, The Season of the Witch seems overcast

Season of the Witch – 2011

Directed by Dominic Sena

Starring Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Claire Foy, Stephen Campbell Moore, Robert Sheehan, Ulrich Thomsen, Stephen Graham, Christopher Lee

Written by Bragi F. Schut

Like any red-blooded American male under 55, I like Ron Perlman a lot.  His recent breakthrough with the Hellboy films and the TV Series Sons of Anarchy, it finally seems he’s getting his due.  Of course, the same could have been said 25 years ago with the show Beauty and the Beast.   Problem is, Perlman enjoys working in the background, developing characters instead of  hamming it up as the lead.

“I love the character,” said Perlman when talking of the film, “I’m actually more comfortable being a sidekick, because I don’t get blamed if it is a complete disaster. I really liked … his mindset, I liked his irreverence. In the world of seriousness, he’s a guy who thinks it’s all bullshit. He’s just in it for the whores and the sword fights.”

It’s from lowered expectations that Perlman is able to thrive.  He makes a lot out of surprisingly little.  As Felson, you know he is doomed from the start, invariably one of the last to die.  He gets great lines, carries a load of responsibility with few words, and none of the goofy somber tones that Cage works earnestly to keep up.  If he’d been able to lead this film, it would have been funnier, grimmer and a lot more ass would’ve been kicked.

This is not to say he is entirely wasted in the role.  On the contrary, he adds a flavor of nonchalance to the overly tense surroundings.  Everyone is dying of the plague, and he’s tossing unforced jokes into the fray.  It’s not an easy thing to do.  You can come off overly serious, like, say, Will Patton, or like just a big dumb lummox, like Kevin Durant.  Instead, Perlman walks a line that is all man.  He is everything we picture we can be in a movie, because most of us, like Perlman, don’t look like movie stars.

Season of the Witch is a decent film.  One can see that Schut really cares for the subject and time period.  Plenty of dates are thrown about, and a thumbnail sketch of the purpose is presented.  The Church is given some of the blame, but also some credence as a home of some real believers.  The plague here is presented as an effect of overzealous religious movement.  Scapegoats are sought, and screws are turned.  The search has turned up a young woman who admits to being a witch.  Through irrelevant means deserting Teutonic Knights, Felson, and our main hero, Behmen of Bleibruck (Cage) are consigned to take the girl to the location of the last Key of Solomon, which, in essence, is a book of spells attributed (falsely) to King Solomon.  These spells were used to ward off evil spirits through exorcism, prayer, etc.  What starts off as a fellowship with some religious folk, a scoundrel and a “young” altar boy ends up with few remaining as they reach their goal.  What they find there, will be left to the viewer.

Director Dominic Sena adds an almost electric sheen to the overcast skies.  His style is very sharp and moves briskly, even if he lingers a little too long in the reveal, revealing what should be intuitively obvious.  The special effects are passable, nothing more.  The effect of the wolves is a little disconcerting, appearing as though the air had gone out of a vacuüm bag.  The acting is solid for a B grade film.  The principals aren’t lost in cliché for the most part.  Neither are they, aside from Perlman, all that memorable.  Cage always seems to be sleepy in his films.  In this one, it’s at least an earnest sleepiness.  I would like to have seen Perlman go out a little less like a chump.  They show him beating the odds with his wisdom throughout the story, just to take a foolish path at the end.  Oh well, it can only end one way.  Putting him in the film at all is kind of depressing reality.  He’s too good to leave out, but will rarely be good enough to survive.  At least we have Hellboy.

(*** out of *****)

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