Several years ago Westerns saw a bit of a resurgence. It didn’t come close to matching the genre’s popularity of the 1950s and 1960s, but it was great to see the visions for Westerns from modern perspectives. We still get the occasional Western from time to time which brings me to “The Salvation”, a Danish revenge tale from co-writer and director Kristian Levring. The film tips its hat to several classic Western movie tropes, but at the same time it maintains an evocative and unique edge to it.
One of the film’s strengths is found in its charismatic lead Mads Mikkelsen. He plays Jon, a Danish settler and ex-soldier in 1870’s America. With the help of his brother Peter (Mikael Persbrandt), Jon establishes himself and then sends word for his wife and son to cross the Atlantic and join him at their new home in the American West. But shortly after reuniting with his family, an encounter with two thugs ends with his wife and son being murdered. Jon tracks down and kills the thugs responsible.
But Jon doesn’t realize that one the dead killers is the brother of a ruthless gang leader named Delarue (played with grizzled gusto by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the husband of the physically and emotionally scarred Madalaine (Eva Green). Delarue makes it his aim to find and pay back his brother’s killer. This sparks a conflict with the revenge-fueled Jon that (literally) bleeds into a small town held hostage by fear of Delarue. The town’s weak-kneed sheriff (Douglas Henshall) and opportunistic Mayor (Jonathan Pryce) are little help and they leave Jon to fend for himself.
Mikkelsen is the perfect man for his role. Jon is stern and rugged but also reserved and soft-spoken. Mikkelsen has always been able to convey through expression and Levring often relies on that. The story takes its lead character to some pretty grim places, and a quick gander at Mikkelsen’s filmography will show he’s familiar with taking characters to grim places. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the burly, gravelly voiced Morgan who seems to be channeling a nuanced Jack Elam vibe. Morgan’s character chomps up scenes with a playful abhorrence and he’s a nice counterbalance to Mikkelsen’s Jon.
Another strong point is the revolving aesthetic that defines the film’s dry and dusty world. In shooting the movie Levring and cinematographer Jens Schlosser move between classic Western imagery and a type of visual hyperbole. At times the film looks as if it were plucked out of a Sergio Leone picture. Other times things look stylized and experimental. We see it in backgrounds, camera techniques, and color pallets.
One could say “The Salvation” is too generic and cliché, but I don’t think Levring’s approach is that simplistic. The film certainly borrows from or pays homage (depending on how you choose to look at it) to certain Westerns that came before it. Yet the film has a unique feel and an intense visual flair that goes along with its violent self-awareness. Mikkelsen shines, Morgan is a hoot, Eva Green is a boiling mystery. When put together as a whole it is a stylishly focused and concise movie which happily embraces its influences.
VERDICT – 4 STARS
I blind bought this, and I was very much impressed with it. I’m amazed that Mads Mikkelson hasn’t been in an actual western before. He’s a perfect fit for the genre. As is Eva Green, whose performance was very striking despite not saying a word. My only real issue with the film was with the villain. He’s the typical mustache-twirling type. I didn’t particularly like Morgan in this movie. Otherwise The Salvation is a very solid entry into the genre, and I would love to see Mikkelson tackle some more westerns.
I liked Morgan mainly because he was going for the over-the-top, scene chewing villain. I truly think it is deliberate and Morgan seems to be having a blast. I have to say I thought it was fun.
Judging by the images, Mads and Jeffery look like they fit perfectly in the western setting! I’ve been hearing good things about Mikkelsen but I don’t think I’ve seen any of his performances. Nice write-up.
Ooooh you really should look up Mikkelsen. He is a true favorite of mine. My very favorites of his has to be “Flame and Citron” and more recently “The Hunt”. Check those out if you have the opportunity. He was also a fun villain in “Casino Royale”.
Mikkelsen always delivers. Nice review, Keith. I will have to watch this!
ALWAYS delivers! He is such a favorite of mine. This is an interesting role for him but it is also a perfect role for him. Check it out.
Nice one! Mikkelsen was great here, but I hated that Green’s character had no dialog—such a waste of talent. Solid flick though, for sure.
It was quite goo, right? It was a nice surprise.
Very interesting and a timely reminder that I need to watch this. I read a couple of reviews earlier this year that were similarly positive but it was in and out of cinemas here swiftly and I missed it. I’m very intrigued by what you say about the cast, and Mikkelsen in particular. I shall try and track down a copy!
Definitely take the time to watch this one. I don’t know if it even made it to a theater in my area but I’m glad I finally caught up with it.
Another fine review, sir. I seen the opening 20mins to this and I’m desperate to see more. I was hooked from the outset. Can’t wait for the opportunity to come again.
Oh definitely finish this one Mark. It’s quite fun and the performances range from one end of the spectrum to another. But they both are effective.
A solid little western that I do wish more people saw and still talked about. Nice review Keith.
Thanks man. It is a shame that more people haven’t seen this one. It’s seemed to fall right off the radar.
I’m glad you enjoyed this as much as I did mate! How great was the Delarue character?? One of the more memorable villains I have seen recently, he was truly repulsive
Definitely! I had a really good time with it. I thought Delarue was a hoot. Really wish more people would see this one.
Yeah it seems to have flown under the radar. Delarue and Mads were great. Top notch revenge flick, even Eva Green was good, in a speechless role!
This sounds like a good ride. I had heard about it, but didn’t pay much attention…but I’m certainly intrigued now.
Check it out. Well worth a watch. Mads is so perfectly cast. Even in a western he seems perfectly in tune.
Think I will give this one a go, Keith. Thanks man! Great write up.
Thanks bro. It was one of those surprises. Nowhere on my radar originally.