I’m a huge fan of the western. It’s a genre with it’s own rules, and it has provided us with some of the greatest films of all time, particularly in the middle of the 20th century. Films like High Noon, Once Upon A Time In The West and The Searchers set the stage for modern western movies like Unforgiven, Tombstone and The Proposition. These are films that contain larger than life characters, barren landscapes and gun toting violence. The Salvation is a throwback to the old westerns, taking parts of them all, from the near silent lone ranger hell bent on revenge (Once Upon A Time In The West), to the cowardly town (High Noon), it is clearly director Kristian Levring’s attempt to try his hand at a genre he loves.
The film starts of with Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) picking up his wife and son, who have finally traveled from Denmark after seven years of being apart, to come and start a life in America. However, they are swiftly murdered bu a pair of thugs and Jon exacts his revenge. However, this brings grave repercussions on a local town, as one of the thugs was a local gang leader’s brother. After more and more tragedy, Jon has to make a stand, in the form of some good, old fashioned, gun toting justice. That’s about all there is to it, and there’s really no mystery. It’s all put on the table early in The Salvation, and the question becomes, how well can it execute?
Well, fortunately, it is able to execute quite well. The scenery is classic western, but stark and almost pops in the same way the landscapes of Zack Snyder’s 300 did. This is largely due to special effects of course, but it creates a modern look on top of the classic style. It also provides the perfect visual tone for the subject matter, which has no happiness whatsoever. Mads Mikkelsen was destined for a role like this, and he eats up the screen with his sharp words, blank stares and all around bad-assness. He manages to be fairly sympathetic too, which is important as you simply have to want to root for the main character in a film like this.
Mads isn’t the only one on form though. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is actually really, really good as the villainous gang leader. It’s interesting, because these days we have an infatuation with these crazy, complex, almost likable villains like the Joker and Bane. What I like about Morgan’s Delarue (how’s that for a western name) is that he’s just down right bad. He doesn’t try and present some kind of unique, craziness. He seems perfectly sane. But he is just flat out bad. He doesn’t waste much time with cheesy dialogue. He just shoots innocent people and takes and does what he wants. Without remorse. It was as easy to hate this guy as any villain in a long time, and that’s just as important as having a likable hero. The film also stars the incredible Eva Green in what is a fantastic performance, but a questionable one. Not for bad reasons, but simply because she plays a mute whose tongue was cut out by Native Americans and basically just broods around, but actually plays a pivotal role in the plot. She’s remarkable, as always, and she is one of the few actresses who has enough presence and a distinct look, to allow herself to stand out in a role like this.
The action in the film is simply but effective also. It reminded me an awful lot of the final battle in the film Open Range, starring Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall. There’s a lot of hiding behind walls and creeping around with your six shooter, or rifle held ready. The gun shots flow though, and the action and revenge exacted is satisfying, although somewhat more brief than I might have liked. The final gun fight is done really well though, with some creative moments, and a few shocks and surprises thrown in to boot. The director really seems to have a knack for the key scenes and how they should look and feel in a classic western like this.
The film is hurt a little by it’s lack of complexity. There’s nothing wrong with a simple film, especially when it’s effective like this one, but there is something to be said for a few twists and turns here and there. Almost everything is revealed to us very early, and that which isn’t is pretty predictable. The moments are still powerful, because of their strong delivery, but maybe just once even I would have liked to have been a little surprised at what I saw. It would have been the finishing touches on a great throwback western.