STARRING Nicolas Cage, Claire Foy, Ron Perlman DIRECTED BY Dominic Sena SCREENPLAY Bragi Schut MPAA RATING Rated PG-13 RUNNING TIME 95 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY Relativity Media DVD EXTRAS Exclusive footage; alternative ending
"Season of the Witch" Review
I have a confession.
I'm a fan of Bragi Schut, the screenwriter for Nicolas Cage's new film Season of the Witch, a genuinely gifted writer/director whose indie work I've enjoyed and who I've gotten to know a bit since first reviewing his brilliant short film Charlie Thistle.
If you've learned anything about me as a writer, however, it would be that I truly commit myself to writing honest, fair reviews devoid of personal bias.
I'm sorry, Bragi. Season of the Witch sucks.
It's actually not your fault, because I get the notion that the finished film is different from what you had originally written. Season of the Witch has the look and feel of a film that was brutally butchered by studio heads in an effort to make the film more marketable and more within the limited acting range of one Nicolas Cage, who can be semi-brilliant when he wants to be but seldom does he want to be anymore.
Season of the Witch sucks because Nicolas Cage phones in his performance as a 14th-century Christian crusader who tires of killing innocent women and children and abruptly abandons the Crusades with his best friend Fenson (Ron Perlman) by his side. They return home to find their world destroyed by the Plague, and church elders are convinced that a young witch (Claire Foy) is responsible. The two soldiers are commanded to transport the girl to a remote monastery so that monks can perform an ancient ritual that will halt the evil.
Yadda Yadda Yadda.
Seldom has a crusader been portrayed with this much disinterest, but Cage is either distracted by his financial woes or his personality has collapsed under the weight of his gigantic sword (Yes, I'll admit that was fun to write!). Whatever the reason, Cage is simply awful here and his inability to lead the film with anything resembling enthusiasm or energy ultimately sinks the film. This is a role in which Cage's mix of somber puppy dog eyes and freakishly goofy action antics could have intertwined for fantastic results. Unfortunately, Dominic Sena seems completely out of touch with the film's lighter potential again, potentially owing to the fact that Schut's original script was likely much meatier and, thus, less marketable.
Now then, maybe I'm simply giving too much credit to Bragi Schut. However, for those of you who witnessed Schut's Charlie Thistle, which he also directed, it's difficult to imagine that the same creative, disciplined and inventive mind that created that script could possibly be responsible for Season of the Witch. Something smells funny, and the smell reeks of studio interference.
After the film has been out for a bit, and hopefully Schut will forgive the film's thrashing, I'm hoping to follow up with Schut for insight into his experience in writing a big budget film that is clearly not a critical darling. However, given the absence of pure action flicks on the scene, it's also entirely possible that the film will attract a post-awards season audience desperate for something a bit more mindless. So, who knows? This could be a huge door opener, anyway!
While Cage massively underplays his character to the point of almost being comatose, Ron Perlman seems a bit lost as his sidekick and seems to be trying to make up for Cage's missing-in-action energy. While Perlman's presence is a bit of fresh air given the lifeless performance by Cage (Have I mentioned Cage sucks here?), it's Claire Foy's energetic and spirited performance that ultimately salvages what little glory there is in the film. Christopher Lee also makes a rather delightful brief appearance that will simply make you smile.
Director Dominic Sena (Gone in 60 Seconds, Whiteout) will hopefully be knocked out by the three strikes rule. What little appealing action there is in the film exists in the final scene, practically the only place where anything resembling a decent special effect exists. The film's CGI is disgustingly weak and unconvincing, while Amir M. Mokri's camera work is convoluted and unimaginative.
The best thing that can be said about Season of the Witch is that this season ends in 98 minutes and I never have to live through it again.