Movie Review: Pathfinder
FILM REVIEW: PATHFINDER
By Michael Wilmington
Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
"Pathfinder" is a bizarre, bloody adventure movie that hurls us back to the 9th century, straight into a clash between noble Native Americans and fierce Vikings - two groups that spend much of the movie swinging weapons at each other's heads, gutting and disemboweling each other in the forests and mud and bashing each other while falling off snowy mountain ledges.
"Hurls" is the right word. Director Marcus Nispel has a gaudy visual style, and he likes to shove us into the violence headfirst. There's very little setup for the story at the beginning; fairly soon, we're up to our necks in massacre. Though you can't say "Pathfinder" doesn't deliver the goods, action-wise, the movie often has trouble sticking to its story between battles or involving us with its characters and its self-consciously mythic hero, Ghost (Karl Urban, who had the advantage of a better myth when he played Eomer in "Lord of the Rings.")
In the midst of its nearly nonstop carnage, uninterrupted by ordinary life or common sense, we see the tormented figure of Ghost, a blond and blue-eyed Nordic orphan, adopted by the Native American Wampanoag tribe. Aware of his Viking relatives' propensity for butchery, he leaps in to protect the wise old shaman Pathfinder (played by the famed Sioux activist Russell Means) and Pathfinder's beauteous, two-fisted daughter Starfire (Moon Bloodgood) from these sadistic invaders, supplanting the would-be Wampanoag hero Blackwing (Jay Tavare).
Urban sometimes looks like a shaggier version of Brad Pitt, but he doesn't get enough time for seduction or levity. Led by the snarling Gunnar (a very effective villain played by "Starship Troopers'." Clancy Brown), the Vikings here are into slavery, slaughter and drawing and quartering, and they have the technological advantage of armor and broadswords. But they haven't reckoned with Ghost, who winds up following wise old Pathfinder's advice to "turn the bear's strength against himself" and begins exploiting a vein of Viking stupidity that makes you wonder how they were ever able to cross the ocean or learn how to disembowel their victims.
Director Nispel is a German-born TV commercial/rock video whiz with an arresting visual style. But the script by Laeta Kalogridis (Oliver Stone's "Alexander") isn't strong on dialogue: The Vikings speak Icelandic (with subtitles) and the Indians speak largely in aphorisms, cliches and mini-sermons. The movie is at its best with the action scenes, like the astounding cliffhanger at the end, a CGI-free scene in which the Vikings and Ghost swinging on a huge rope on the mountainside in the midst of a snowy landslide. But it doesn't really balance the action with humanity, drama or humor. The gnarly decor of Pathfinder's treehouse, with its wind chimes, is about as humanly eccentric and warm as "Pathfinder" gets.
Nispel's feature debut was the 2003 "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" remake, and his cinematographer, Daniel Pearl, shot both that movie and Tobe Hooper's original. They shoot this picture as if it were a horror movie too. The atmosphere is overcast, blue-gray and bleak, and the camera is always seeking out something awful to show us. "Pathfinder," which was based vaguely on Nils Gaup's excellent 1987 Norwegian epic (set in Lapland), doesn't lack for talent. But it's talent put to dubious ends. After a while, you begin to feel a little sorry for those poor snarling, stupid Vikings. They should have gone to Lapland instead.
Directed by Marcus Nispel; screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis; photographed by Daniel Pearl; edited by Jay Friedkin, Glen Scantlebury; music by Jonathan Elias; production design by Greg Blair; produced by Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, Nispel. In English and Icelandic, with English subtitles. A Twentieth Century Fox release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:28. MPAA rating: R (strong brutal violence throughout).
Ghost - Karl Urban
Starfire - Moon Bloodgood
Pathfinder - Russell Means
Gunnar - Clancy Brown
Blackwing - Jay Tavare
Ulfar - Ralf Moeller