The Salvation

     Danish director Kristian Levring is without a doubt a fan of the western genre. I don’t have any evidence of that, but I can see it in the way he orchestrates his latest film The Salvation. It’s a rare example of a genre film that doesn’t necessarily offer anything we haven’t seen before, but it’s an exquisite and well minded example of a classic. The most obvious difference between Levring’s western and say, any American western, is there isn’t an ounce of comedy, light hearted jest, and barely even a smile. Levring is dead serious with The Salvation, and he sure cast the right man for the brooding. Madds Mikkelson is the Danish answer to Viggo Mortensen, giving his all whether an accused school teacher in the controversial film The Hunt or as a Bond villain.

     It’s the year 1871 and two brothers from Denmark have migrated to the American Western Frontier. Purchasing land and preparing a home, Jon (Mikkelson) has been anticipating the day his wife and son will arrive to meet him; it’s been seven years. Jon and his family unluckily share a stagecoach with the brother of the most dangerous man in town, and the happy homecoming turns into a nightmare. Left with nothing, Jon returns home to leave the corrupt, dusty town and start a life somewhere new. Jon had his revenge on the ruthless men who destroyed his family, but he was unaware of their identity. Now the entire town, threatened by Delarue (Morgan ), see turning Jon over as their only chance for salvation.

The Salvation is one of the heaviest films I have seen in a long time.

     There is a spooky calm and silence throughout the film when there isn’t a lot of killing going on. The silence won’t calm your nerves, however; from the moment it begins, The Salvation pursues a stressful, gut wrenching and nervous pace that lasts until the credits role. In the first 23 minutes the stage is set, there are gruesome and disturbing scenes of death and the viewer is hooked until this poor man gets his revenge. While it does follow a standard directional narrative like modern westerns Appaloosa or 3:10 to Yuma, grieving lead character, left for dead, returns with guns blazing. Still, it’s the fierce direction and character fueled hatred that makes this very angry western so compelling.

      Apparently Eva Green (300 Rise of an Empire, White Bird in a Blizzard) is the go to actress for psychopaths. Her character is mute and she doesn’t utter a sound, but she is equally as intense. Using the desert of South Africa as early America, the CGI desert motif in the background looks a bit too Looney Tunes if you pay attention. The rain sequence is also an easy fake to spot. Normally, the “day for night” technique, where a sequence shot in daylight and changed in post production to night, bothers me because it’s so obviously fake. Yet, how it’s used and lighted here only adds to the film’s unsettling vibe. The Salvation is one of the heaviest films I have seen in a long time; it’s brutal and intense, but Mikkelson’s performance along with Levring’s direction make it worth enduring.

Final Thought

An angry and unforgiving western from a foreign director who completely understands the genre.


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