Once upon a time in the Himalayas rode Lafcadia, a hired killer armed with a sword and a thousand-mile stare, both equally deadly.

Can a professional assassin turn sword into plowshare and scowl into smile? Can he purge himself of sin?

An exhilarating allegory with an epic's geographical and moral sweep (and an 88-minute running time!), The Warrior is set in feudal India.

But its theme, a violent man's renunciation of violence, is timeless.

Likewise its style. There's a pinch of Akira Kurosawa, a sprinkle of Clint Eastwood, and heaps of originality in this, the exhilarating feature debut of Asif Kapadia, a graduate of London's Royal College of Art and accomplished director of commercials.

Lafcadia the Warrior is an efficient killer of villagers (and entire villages) that fail to pay taxes to the warlord.

While the warrior's son lacks his father's martial skills, the boy possesses a capacity for love that is both a reproach and goad to the older man.

It is the boy's present of his amulet to a girl from a neighboring village that prompts the warrior's crisis of conscience.

Dispatched to raze this village in arrears to the warlord, Lafcadia recognizes the amulet on the girl. It is a sign. This is not some anonymous creature to be sacrificed on the altar of his professionalism. This is someone's child. He tosses away his weapon.

Lafcadia's reward for laying down his sword? To become the target of an assassin who also goes after his son. His penance is to understand what it feels like to be the warlord's victim.

As he is stalked across Northwest India, Lafcadia travels to a desert stark and parched as his soul, then to a woodland that suggests the beginnings of his regeneration, and finally to the cleansing snows of the Himalayas. Director Kapadia tells the story with startling images and few words.

What begins as Lafcadia's journey into the heart of darkness ends as his pilgrimage into the light. Stunning.

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey

at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com.

The Warrior

*** 1/2 (out of four stars)

Produced by Bertrand Faivre, written and directed by Asif Kapadia, photography by Roman Osin, music by Dario Marianelli, distributed by Miramax Films. In Hindi with subtitles.

Running time: 1 hour, 28 mins.

The Warrior. . . Irfan Khan

Warrior's Son. . . Puru Chibber

Blind Woman. . . Damayanti Marfatia

Parent's guide: R (adult themes, extreme violence)