Danish western The Salvation is yet another film concerned with brutality, revenge and rough justice in 19th Century America. I’ve seen enough of this during the past month to last me a lifetime. Life is cheap on the plains – the movie industry will never let you forget it – and Mads Mikkelsen’s settler Jon is another strong, silent type who learns this the hard way: after nine years on the continent with just his brother for company, Jon’s wife and 11-year-old son finally travel from Denmark and join him, but before the day is over the reunited family is caught up in a bloodbath. This sets in motion a straightforward revenge tale, with Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s merciless gang leader and landowner Delarue serving as the principal protagonist. As soon as you see Delarue’s small band of men you know they are going to be picked off one-by-one by the outnumbered hero during a final showdown; sadly none of the actors playing these bandits make an impression, save for Eric Cantona’s Corsican, and I wonder whether that’s simply because he is so recognisable to anyone who follows football.
There are nearly enough hints of classic westerns here to trick you into thinking you’re actually watching one: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly is an obvious touchstone, as is Rio Bravo, but The Salvation – which is certainly a passable hour-and-a-half – struggles to truly carve out an identity of its own. Certain elements, perhaps seen as key to the genre, are present and correct. Kasper Winding’s soundtrack features the kind of plaintive guitar music that helped make Ennio Morricone’s name 50 years ago, and DP Jens Schlosser exploits the landscape – it was actually shot in South Africa – to create plenty of luscious magic hour or nighttime shots of mountains and barren vistas. There’s a subplot about the value of oil and the encroachment of a corporation that comes to a head by the end, but aside from that there’s nothing in the plot to distinguish this from ten, twenty other generic westerns, except perhaps its reliance on immigrant characters. Director Kristian Levring – one of the original Dogme95 signatories – has certainly put together a solidly entertaining piece, but you long for some of the idiosyncratic pizzazz that made another immigrant-centric western, Slow West, such an oddball treat last year.
Mikkelsen is an enigmatic presence here, as is Eva Green, playing a mute, abused widow who is held captive by the terrifyingly savage Delarue. The three main characters are types that you’ll have seen before many times over, and the same can be said for the supporting cast: Cantona’s henchman is dull, Jonathan Pryce’s weaselly Mayor is marginally more interesting, Alex Arnold plays a plucky young kid who may as well be carrying round a bag of dead meat from the first time we see him, while Mikael Persbrandt, who has played the same detective in 30 different Martin Beck movies before ending his stint last year, is Jon’s brother, also doomed from the moment we first clasp eyes on him. Fate deals several blows to these characters as the story plays out but you’ll see each one coming a mile off. So yes, The Salvation is completely predictable, but it’s quite entertaining nonetheless and the performances are generally good, even if no-one produces a spectacular turn. The actor who comes closest is Morgan, who has a passable stab at Lee Van Cleef’s squinting Angel Eyes, though Mikkelsen is also a good fit.
Directed by: Kristian Levring.
Written by: Anders Thomas Jensen, Kristian Levring.
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jonathan Pryce, Eric Cantona, Mikael Persbrandt.
Cinematography: Jens Schlosser.
Editing: Pernille Bech Christensen.
Music: Kasper Winding.
Running Time: 92 minutes.