The Salvation: A Review
Kristian Levring’s take on a western is, at heart, a ninety two minute love letter to the classics of the genre. Cowboy boots kick up dust, stetsons are lowered over eyes and the villains have impressive handlebar moustaches. What makes it unique, however, is that the protagonist John (Mads Mikkelsen) is a Danish immigrant trying to eke out an existence in the wild west town of Black Creek.
The brutal fate of his family, freshly emigrated to join him, catapults the story into action. We are immediately treated to Mikkesen’s stoic face as John unloads bullet after bullet into his enemies, led by the utterly ruthless Delarue (Jeffery Dean Morgan), who has the town of Black Creek under his thumb.
The violence presented is never needlessly gratuitous (there are no exploding heads, sorry Django fans), yet this still manages to be an unflinching portrayal of an incredibly violent time, and Levring does a brilliant job of emphasising the vulnerability of his characters: the townspeople are powerless against Delarue’s gang who, at one point, demand that the town choose two people to sacrifice to pay a debt. The ensuing scene is one of the most affecting of the entire film. We see Delarue ruthlessly gunning townspeople down while the cowardly Mayor Keane, played to tremulous perfection by Game of Thrones star Jonathan Pryce, does nothing. Gunslingers are set on fire, shot through floorboards and encouraged to climb into their own coffins. Yet Levring lets the violence speak for itself instead of making it theatrical and ridiculous.
Interestingly, we are not treated to English dialogue until a good ten minutes into the film, although, there is not a lot of dialogue in the film full stop. Mikkelsen’s John is tight-lipped, relying on his killer stoic gaze and Eric Cantona, in a role he was seemingly born to play as Delarue’s right hand man, barely speaks, merely interjecting in a gruff French accent inadvertently reminiscent of his Kronenbourg advertisements. Finally, Eva Green plays the narratively significant yet mute ‘Princess’, whose stare could scare the prairie oysters off a prize bull.
Such silence makes the visual aspect of the film stand out, and it does so magnificently. The colours shine through especially, evoking the pastel hues of early colour photography, and the backdrops of wild, untamed America serve to contrast the very personal vengeance mission of Mikkelsen’s stony faced protagonist.
Regrettably, The Salvation falls down on a few points that make it just shy of being a truly spectacular film. The Danish aspect of the film is underplayed and could be seen as a missed opportunity to truly make a statement about foreign migration and the American dream – after the initial few scenes, John could easily be another red blooded American hero in the mold of Clint Eastwood and John Wayne’s western protagonists, instead of a foreigner trying to find his feet in a vast, unforgiving land. It is also arguable that the film sometimes sails close to the wind with regards to being too cliché. Some of John’s gruffly spoken lines are fairly predictable as he is unloading bullets into Delarue’s gang, and a few tired character tropes shine through, such as the drunken lecherous bandits in the carriage at the very beginning, who may as well have been NPCs in Red Dead Redemption, spouting pre-programmed lines.
Overall though, The Salvation is excellent entertainment. It is a fantastic homage to a genre overlooked in recent decades and is stripped from needless story padding that often leave films of this ilk hamstrung. If you enjoy gun slinging action, tense, inventively shot gun battles and uncomplicated stories then this film is highly recommended.