The idea of a Danish western starring Mads Mikkelsen was an intriguing one – perhaps a little more intriguing than The Salvation, Kristian Levring’s homage to the well-trodden genre, actually turns out to be. But that’s ok, because while The Salvation ultimately takes more from than the western canon than it adds to it, it is nevertheless a well made, enjoyable film.
We begin in the American Frontier, where Danish immigrants Jon and Peter (Mads Mikkelsen and Mikael Persbrandt, respectively) have been living for some time. Jon is anxiously awaiting the arrival of his wife and son, whom he hasn’t seen for years. Their arrival unfortunately coincides with the release from prison of a gang leader’s brother, who, after a disagreement, ends up killing John’s wife and son. What then happens is a spiral of revenge, in which John and gang leader Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) are intent on ending each other’s lives.
The film is very solidly put together, its South African landscapes standing in admirably for the American West. It borrows heavily from its predecessors in the genre, as almost all westerns do, but does so in a loving way. So much in here – from the framing to the soundtrack – is reminiscent of classic films. There’s even a dark joke about a coffin I particularly enjoyed, which reminded me of a great Clint Eastwood line in A Fistful of Dollars.
What the film doesn’t do is give us a fresh perspective on the genre, or anything particularly radical. The fact that our protagonist is Danish actually factors very little into the plot. He could be from anywhere really, and Levring and his screenwriters don’t seem overly interested in exploring the immigration angle, even though it’s hinted at in the opening scenes. So what we get is a tried and tested revenge narrative which, while efficiently presented, doesn’t establish any set pieces or, crucially, characters, worth remembering.
Mads Mikkelsen is a very good actor, but the role of Jon isn’t one for the western canon to really savour, and similarly Jeffrey Dean Morgan, while suitably nefarious as Delarue, isn’t a memorable villain. Eva Green, thanks to the nature of her character, really doesn’t get much chance to show what she can do, and the presence of Eric Cantona in a tiny role feels like stunt casting.
Most things about The Salvation are solid, workmanlike and safe. There’s little to really complain about, save a couple of instances of iffy scripting, but the overall sense of familiarity leaves the whole thing feeling not much more than efficiently done. That doesn’t make The Salvation a bad film by any means, but I wanted more from it.