Pierce Brosnan, looking suitably woolly and grizzled, stars as a man on the run from his past in the period suspense western "Seraphim Falls." A beautifully shot chase film by writer-director David Von Ancken and co-writer Abby Everett Jaques, it moves along with minimalist efficiency before running out of gas during an overlong allegorical final section.
The film opens with Brosnan's character, a laconic man named Gideon, camped high atop Nevada's snow-covered Ruby Mountains (though the film was shot primarily in New Mexico) in 1868, with the Civil War looming ominously in the past. The peak's cool silence is soon broken by the sound of bullets, one of which rips into Gideon's bicep. He flees head-over-boots down the mountain and the hunt is on. His pursuers are the equally taciturn Carver, played with quiet gravity by Liam Neeson, and four hired guns. Carver forebodingly wants to capture Gideon alive — he gives strict orders to only aim for extremities — and therein lies the film's tension. Exposition is doled out judiciously, and we learn about the characters mainly through their actions. Gideon, for instance, is lethally proficient with a knife, and while firearms come and go, his trusty blade remains, taking on symbolic significance.
Brosnan and Neeson make fine adversaries mining the terse dialogue for veiled dramatic fervor. The supporting players are also well-cast, with veteran character actors Michael Wincott and Ed Lauter as two of Carver's mercenaries, Tom Noonan as a wagon-train missionary and Anjelica Huston and Wes Studi making dreamlike appearances late in the film.
The setup is simple and familiar but one that is instantly intriguing. Von Ancken adeptly exploits it for more than an hour but may have been better served by letting some of the past remain enigmatic. Once Carver's reasons for stalking Gideon are made clear through a flashback, the film shifts to a hallucinatory style. The mountains and prairie of earlier scenes, which John Toll's cinematography exploits to full advantage, give way to the dry, cracked floor of a desert.
It's an apt setting for Gideon and Carver's final, Sartrean standoff, but the pas de deux goes on for far too long, draining the movie of whatever tension remained. The mystery that had fueled the film is gone, and we are left with a forced artiness that seems at odds with the film's earlier naturalistic tone.
"Seraphim Falls." MPAA rating: R for violence and brief language. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes. At selected theaters.