Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Drama, Western
Run Time: 1 hour 32 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Eric Cantona, Jonathan Pryce
Co-Written & Directed by Kristian Levring (Fear Me Not, The Intended)
Danish writer/director Kristian Levring has a deep fondness for the American Western. His love and admiration for the genre is evident in nearly every frame of The Salvation(opening today), a serious, gritty Western that is beautifully shot and effective enough, despite the fact that very little life is breathed into its characters.
It begins well enough, and Levring's heritage at first feels fresh and new. Mads Mikkelsen plays Jon, who along with his brother Peter (Mikael Persbrandt), has immigrated to America from Denmark in the late 1980s as society pushed West. Usually Westerns feel very American, but Jon and Peter speak Danish and their "outsider" presence makes us feel like we're about to experience a Western as seen through foreign eyes. Jon awaits at a train station for his wife (Nanna Oland Fabricius) and son (Toke Lars Bjarke) to arrive from overseas, after having spent the past seven years apart from one another. Jon has the American Dream in his head, and plans to take his reunited family to the home he has established, where he can hunt with his son and make a living under the glorious light of the frontier sky.
But his dreams quickly turn nightmarish when some shady fellows end up sharing their stagecoach. Under the rule that if it happens in the first 20 minutes of the film, it isn't a spoiler, I'll go on (so stop reading this now if you consider this early development a "spoiler"). The two men draw a gun on Jon and his family and the unimaginable happens. Jon is thrown from the stagecoach and spends the night running blind through the open desert trying to follow the wayward coach. When he finally catches up to them, he finds that the men have killed his wife and son. He returns the favor by killing the men.
That story alone could have been the premise for a movie, but it only serves as the set-up for this one. Unknowingly, Jon has just murdered the brother of a brutal thug, Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who controls a nearby town with his iron fist. Delarue kills and torments a few of the townspeople and coerces them into helping find the man that murdered his brother. He also takes the opportunity to move in on his brother's "princess," a town prostitute Madelaine (Eva Green), who sports a nasty cut across her lips and does not speak a word, having had her tongue removed, supposedly by Indians as a child.
Movies of this genre can't help but be visually magnificent, but this one in particular is shot with a poetic eye by director of photography, Jens Schlosser. Unfortunately the characters inhabiting his beautiful world all meander about like cold, unfeeling robots. Mikkelsen is a striking presence, but his character holds his emotions so close to his chest, that he doesn't feel human. For example, when he finds his son's body, he holds him dramatically, but doesn't let out a peep...not a sniffle.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan looks the part of a dastardly, mustache-twirling bad guy, but his low rumbling voice and lack of emotion matches Mikkelsen's emptiness. Ironically, only the character of Madelaine seems bursting with feeling, and she doesn't utter one word the entire film. Not that there is all that much dialogue to begin with, but when a mute speaks louder than the other characters, that could be a bit of a problem.
After its compelling beginnings, The Salvation devolves into a fairly straight-forward revenge flick. Still, there is enough here to satisfy fans of the genre, even if it feels like we're treading on previously discovered ground.
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