Angel breakdown

“Seraphim Falls”Samuel Goldwyn FilmsDirected by David Von AnckenWritten by David Von Ancken and Abby Everett JacquesStarring: Liam Neeson, Pierce Brosnan, Michael Wincott, Ed Lauter, John Robinson, Robert Baker, Xander Berkely and Anjelica HustonRated R/115 minutesOpened March 2, 2007Three-and-a-half out of four stars

Aaron AllenThe Daily Utah Chronicle

Across the untamed wilderness of 19th-century America, one man runs while another man pursues in David Von Ancken’s blisteringly savage Western, “Seraphim Falls.” Colonel Gideon (Pierce Brosnan) seeks asylum from the demons in his mind and the revenge-seeking Colonel Carver (Liam Neeson), whose shadowy daguerreotype is probably next to the word “dogged” in some dusty edition of Webster’s Dictionary. These two men, high-ranking officers on opposing sides of the Civil War, have seen and done things that make them question their faith in humanity. Both men move toward the same destiny on the sun-cracked desert of their souls.

In a bold stroke of storytelling, we don’t discover until late in the movie what Gideon did to deserve Carver’s antagonism-a risky move considering that both men are brutal, savvy survivalists, capable of acts of kindness and mercy immediately followed by acts of vicious cruelty. We’re forced to draw our own conclusions about these men based on their actions, which is frustrating sometimes because of their conflicting and enigmatic traits-not to mention their monosyllabic manners. But it’s an approach that pays off brilliantly, creating two complex characters portrayed by two complex actors at the top of their games.

Carver and his grumbling gang of bounty hunters (Michael Wincott, Ed Lauter, John Robinson and Robert Baker) track Gideon from the celestial heights of the snowy Rocky Mountains to the throat-choking hellishness of the Nevada desert, each step of the way hauntingly photographed by Academy Award-winning cinematographer John Toll (“Legends of the Fall” and “Braveheart”).

Gideon never gets more than a moment to warm his hands or catch some Zs. Brosnan is excellent in the role-I especially liked an early scene in the mountains in which he convincingly shivers, shudders and gasps while removing a bullet from his arm with a knife that Rambo would be jealous of. Gideon also wins the award for most surprising (and disgusting) use of a dead horse.

In the more complicated of the two roles, Neeson is quietly menacing as Carver. His character takes on increasingly tragic dimensions the more we learn about him. Carver is more pitiful than he is bad, and Neeson never overplays him.

Ancken, on the other hand, overplays the visual metaphors occasionally. The introduction of hallucinated characters as the mental states of Gideon and Carver break down is clumsy. But I did like how the setting moves from the mountains to the desert, charting the fall of these two formerly good men-these “seraphs”-from highest highs to lowest lows.

“Nobody can protect no one,” Carver says to a frightened girl at one point.

After what he and Gideon have been through, it’s hard to disagree.