Movie Review: ‘The Salvation’
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Plot: A Danish soldier trying to set up a new life in America seeks revenge for the murders of his wife and child.
I see genres (and all subsets of subgenres) as experimentations on themes of the human condition. Each movie does their part to add to or prove wrong what came before it. One day, each of these genres will have a “concluding paragraph,” a film that satisfies all the themes and all the experimentations and finally come up with something concrete. So far, and this is arguable, I think there is only one subgenre that has truly found that conclusion: Westerns. And the conclusion is Unforgiven. Ever since then, the Western has had a rough go of it with a lot of homage obsessed modern attempts. Thankfully, a few still live up to the experiment. Kevin Costner’s Open Range comes to mind as does the Australian Proposition. The Salvation just joined their ranks.
Mads Mikkelson plays Jon, a quiet stoic Danish war vertern who has been setting up shop on some farmland, his own little chunk of the American dream. He has finally worked to the point where he can bring over the wife and son he had left overseas. During a stage coach ride from the train station to their new home, they are attacked by a few outlaws recently released from prison. Throwing Jon from the coach, they proceed to kill his family (and, of course, not before they have their way with his wife). A determined Jon races after the stage coach and eventually catches up where he shoots both outlaws dead. Mikkelson, equipped with sparse dialog, doesn’t leave any camera shot of himself wasted, filling the empty air with his unspoken pain and grief.
There are very fine lines between a copy, an homage, and simply making something that could be categorized easily into a particular genre. Director Kristian Levring succeeds at making this movie just simply something that could be categorized. Frankly, if I was told this was made during the 1960s with the other spaghetti Westerns, I think I might believe that. It perfectly paints the Old West as the morally ambiguous and lawless land the Italian directors used to portray. For instance, Jon must now contend with Delarue (a ruthless Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the older brother of one of Jon’s attackers and the leader of the local gang. They pretty much do whatever they want in the nearby town with the mayor and sheriff wrapped around their finger. It is a Hatfield and McCoy style escalation of violence, while the outlaws’ relationship with two businessmen, who are paying the outlaws to terrorize the local land owners out of the area, falls right in line with the classic anti-capitalist themes.
The Salvation is a straightforward Western thriller that creates something fresh by sticking to the old rules, even if it might not progress the Western genre in a post-Unforgiven genre.