Monday, January 10, 2011

Movie Review: Season of the Witch

Season of the Witch *
Directed by:
Dominic Sena.
Written By: Bragi F. Schut.
Starring: Nicolas Cage (Behmen), Ron Perlman (Felson), Stephen Campbell Moore (Debelzaq), Stephen Graham (Hagamar), Ulrich Thomsen (Eckhart), Claire Foy (The Girl), Robert Sheehan (Kay), Christopher Lee (Cardinal D'Ambroise), BrĂ­an F. O'Byrne (Grandmaster).

I read somewhere once that no great actor had made so many bad movies than Robert Mitchum. That was obviously written before the days of Nicolas Cage. Cage is one of the best actors of his generation - an actor capable of pushing beyond where most actors would ever dare to go. His performances in Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation and the recent Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans are all performances that I find it hard to imagine any other director doing as well. But interspersed within all his great work is so many bad movies that I cannot even count. Until recently however, the one thing I could always say about Cage is that he gave every performance his all. Even in crap like The Wicker Man, Ghost Rider or Gone in 60 Seconds, where Cage was horrible, he was out there, well past the point where most actors would go. But recently in many of his bad movies, Cage has been something I never would have described as before - boring. Season of the Witch is the latest movie where Cage really doesn’t seem to give a crap, and isn’t even trying. Personally, I would rather have Cage go way over the top and give one of those legendarily bad performances, than doing a performance that puts me to sleep.

It doesn’t help that Season of the Witch is a horribly written and directed movie. It stars Cage as Behmen, alongside Ron Perlman as Felson (another actor I don’t think I’ve ever described as boring before this film) as two Crusaders in 1334 AD fighting legions of Muslims under the direction of a Grandmaster who goes over the top with his rhetoric. After being ordered to kill women and children, Behman and Felson decide to desert and head out on their own. They end up in a town being overrun by the plague - and everyone blames a supposed witch (Claire Foy). In order not to be executed as deserters, they agree to transport the witch to a monastery 400 leagues away, where they will be able to cure her - and as such eliminate the plague. Behmen, Felson and a rag tag group of misfits head out on the dangerous journey together.

Season of the Witch is a rather confused film. Given its opening, which concentrates a lot on the rhetoric by the Grandmaster, I assumed the movie was going to be able the evils and wrong-headedness of religious wars - of using God in the name of killing, and how paranoia infects people, and makes them jump to irrational conclusions. Yet as the movie goes along, it becomes clearer that perhaps the film is actually arguing for that paranoia - because sometimes it turns out to be correct. I think the reality is that the filmmakers have no real idea what the hell they are saying.

The writing in the film is lazy. The basic premise could make for an interesting movie - yet the film has no interesting dialogue, and the characters are mere cookie cutters - defined only by their most basic characteristics. It certainly doesn’t help though that none of the actors really seem to give a crap - not just Cage but everyone around him. Cage has not been this boring in a film since Bangkok Dangerous. But Ron Perlman, not unfamiliar with horrible movies, but like Cage can usually be counted on to do something crazy and entertaining - not here. Not even the seemingly obligatory cameo by Christopher Lee adds anything to the film. The rest of the cast, made up of those actors that you spend the entire movie trying to figure out where you’ve seen them before, is equally disinterested.

And while we’re on the subject of disinterested, what the hell has happened to director Dominic Sena? Sena made a terrific debut film in 1993 with the underrated Kalifornia, with a young Brad Pitt as a serial killer, Juliette Lewis as his loopy girlfriend and a pre X-Files David Duchovny as the normal guy sucked into their world. Since then, he seems to be getting worse with each film. Gone in 60 Seconds and White Out both may have been bad films, but at least you sensed he was trying there, and was being let down by the material. Yet Season of the Witch is the work of a director who has clearly given up and no longer cares.

There is hope of the horizon though - for Cage fans at least, not Sena ones. I recently a preview of his upcoming film Drive Angry 3-D - and while it seems like its going to absolutely awful, perhaps even worse than Season of the Witch - but as the preview makes clear, it has Cage going full tilt over the top into insane territory again. I for one will be there opening weekend.

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