Season of the Witch, 2011.
Directed by Dominic Sena.
Starring Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Stephen Campbell Moore, Stephen Graham, Ulrich Thomsen, Claire Foy, Robert Sheehan and Christopher Lee.
A heroic knight and his closest aide are thrust on a perilous and action-filled journey that will push them to their limits as they uncover the dark secret of a cursed girl and engage in battle with a mighty and sinister force.
Nicolas Cage is difficult to pin down. “One for cash, one for flash,” maybe, but then he’ll make a couple with neither. Personally, I adore him – he always seems so happy just to be there. He excels at mental, and you can’t deny his effort even when faced with the worst of scripts (“Murdering me won’t bring back your goddamn honey.” Then why, in Season of the Witch, does he come across as rather bored?
It’s about Behmen (Nic Cage) and Felson (Ron Pearlman), which are weird names, but you don’t question weird names in mythical stories. They’re Teutonic knights in the Crusades, killing heretics in the name of God… until they realise they’re actually slaughtering innocent people in the name of a man-made religion. This dawns on Behmen shortly after a castle siege. The corpses of women and children litter the ground.
It’s a shame because they’re quite good at being knights. They would banter as they fought. “I’ll take the three-hundred on the left, you take the three-hundred on the right” – stuff like that.
So Behmen stabs a young woman with his sword during the aforementioned castle siege, and he realises the various contradictions of the Crusades. The image of this woman dying by his sword haunts Behmen throughout the film, and rightly so. They could have made the actual image a bit more gruesome though, like when blood clouds the victim’s eyes. Or a child! Yeah, killing a terrified kid would have been far more effective. You see, we’ve only just gotten to know Behmen, and that’s only through some superficial banter and a fight scene montage. It’s hard to believe, being the hardened warrior he is, that killing a woman would affect him so greatly.
Anyway, Behmen and Felson desert the Order and trudge back to their homeland. On return, they find it overrun with plague. Those infected have hideous spores and swellings over their skin. The Cardinal is worst off, his face distorted by inflamed growths.
The townsfolk have placed blame on a young woman for the disease. She is locked in a basement prison and is helplessly attractive. The Cardinal offers Behmen and Felson a choice – assist in the transportation of the accused witch to a remote monastery, for they are the only ones able to lift her damned curse, or be turned over to the Order as deserters, an offence punishable by death.
Behmen chooses the latter, until he sees the woman. She looks a lot like the girl he killed at the castle siege, but he mistakes it as a chance for redemption. Behmen and Felson will accompany her transportation on one condition – she receives a fair trail.
Debelzeq (a priest), Kay of Wollenbarth (an altar boy with aspirations of becoming a knight), Eckhart (a knight from the town) and Hagamar (a guide, played by a wasted Stephen Graham) join Behmen and Felson. They patrol alongside a caged cart, inside which is the accused girl, pulled by two horses through medieval forests and plains.
Season of the Witch is at its best during this considerable portion of the film, particularly when the five men are conversing. They speak of their back-stories to pass the time. Felson, for instance, only signed up to the Order to atone for his sins. How many years, he once enquired, do I have to join for adultery? Three. Best put me down for ten, he replies.
Unfortunately these moments are sparse and brief. Action takes precedence over character development. The action isn’t too bad. In fact, the rickety bridge scene is really rather good. You just don’t get decent rickety bridge scenes these days. Season of the Witch would have fared far better if it kept with such clichés. However, as soon as large-scale CGI takes over, all the good work done by prosthetics and set pieces (the bridge) earlier on is undone.
These aggressive obstacles are quite obviously coming from the woman. She plays the men against each other and displays extraordinary strength, doing all but hopping onto a broomstick and cackling her way across the moon. If only the filmmakers had kept her identity more ambiguous. That way Behmen’s persistent faith in her deserving a fair trial would make sense and an extra dimension to the men’s growing disagreements would form itself.
Perhaps that’s why Cage seems disillusioned with his role. But when has a weak plot stopped him having fun before? His real enemy is the olde speak the script forces upon him. It works with some characters, like the priest and knight, but Cage seems to have real difficulty. Pearlman’s Felson is given more leeway, and is by far the film’s most enjoyable presence. Cage is left stuck amongst his own dialogue.
365 Days, 100 Films
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