In 1870s America, a peaceful American settler kills his family’s murderer which unleashes the fury of a notorious gang leader. His cowardly fellow townspeople then betray him, forcing him to hunt down the outlaws alone.
The Western genre hasn’t had much love within the mainstream of late, with any successes primarily limited to the works of celebrated auteurs such as the Coen brothers, but it’s always a thrill for me to see someone else attempting to tackle this compelling genre. In this case, the director is Dane Kristian Levring, and his story follows a Danish settler (Mads Mikkelsen), who is forced to turn to violence when his wife and young boy are threatened by outlaws. ‘The Salvation’ is uncompromising and bleak in a violent story about an immigrant struggling to adapt to the harsh environment of the US frontier, and it doesn’t compromise in showing the lengths men will go to for revenge in lawless times. The violence is brutal, swift and bloody, and Levring’s direction makes this film a thrill to watch.
Mads Mikkelsen is as reliable a performer as anyone these days and his central performance as Jon is quietly compelling. He continues to do great work as TV’s ‘Hannibal’ and performances in Danish films ‘A Royal Affair’ and ‘The Hunt’ have shown his range, with his chameleon like ability to sink into roles serving him well. In the case of ‘Hannibal’ he brings an unnerving charisma, whereas here he gradually reveals the steely resolve under a peaceful exterior. He is matched superbly by Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the primary antagonist, Delarue, a sadistic villain who oozes menace in every scene. Delarue is a local gang leader who exploits the local town for financial gain, and Jon is dragged into his crosshairs by the film’s inciting incident where Delarue’s brother shares an ill-fated horse and cart ride from the train station to the local town with Jon and his family. Delarue strikes fear into the local town’s residents and Jon finds no support from the townsfolk to fight back against his reign of terror. ‘The Salvation’ is no easy tale of someone protecting a small town from being exploited, nor is it a simple revenge tale. Levring has created an atmosphere of intimidation where everyone is scared and fears for their life, and the presence of an apparent hero threatens that existence more than it alleviates it.
Westerns are often known for their stunning cinematography, and whilst the film is largely confined to the small frontier town and Morgan’s hold (where the bank is etc), there are some wonderful sweeping vistas during a horse chase sequence that make the most of the film’s location shooting in South Africa. Rounding out the main cast are Jonathan Pryce as the town Mayor and Eva Green as a mute woman who is romantically linked to Delarue’s brother, with Green giving an excellent wordless performance to silently convey her inner thoughts and feelings. Perhaps more enjoyable is a surprising role for former Manchester United and France international footballer Eric Cantona as one of Delarue’s henchmen. Cantona doesn’t have much in the way of dialogue but he has a strong screen presence and it was fun to see him!
‘The Salvation’ is a strong, violent tale of revenge in a western setting, and the dual performances from Mikkelsen and Morgan make this a western to savour. Recommended.
Directed By: Kristian Levring
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Eva Green, Jonathan Pryce, Mikael Persbrandt, Douglas Henshall, Michael Raymond James and Eric Cantona