Dir: Kristian Levring
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Eva Green, Eric Cantona, Jonathan Pryce, Mikael Perabrandt, Douglas Henshall, Michael Raymond-James
Run-Time: 92 Mins
Danish film makers take on a classic American genre with a largely European cast in a film shot in South Africa.
Mikkelson and Perabrandt are brothers and Danish settlers to the frontier. Jon has waited seven years for his wife and son to join him in America but on the day they arrive in the land of opportunity his family are brutally attacked and killed by a criminal just released from prison. When Jon takes vengeance and kills their attacker, he finds himself the target of Delarue (Morgan) the man’s brother; whose gang terrorises a frightened little frontier town.
The first thing you notice is the colour: A lot of classic westerns have a sun-bleached look to them as if the heat has drained the colour out of the landscape. Levring contrasts this by making the yellows and oranges of the landscape so vivid you can feel the searing heat baking the landscape and attacking your eyes. Some of the quick cuts from moody torrential rain or gloomy indoor shots to the bright outdoors are retina searing.
The classic Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns are famed for their long, slow and wide tracking across the bleak landscape and Levring plays with this genre convention, especially early on, by framing Mikkelson and his surroundings in tight close ups as he waits for his family at the train station. Their are no long, establishing shots. The Salvation doesn’t wait around to get into the action.
But this is undoubtedly a modern spaghetti western and there are references a plenty. Delarue has army ties as Lee Van Cleef ‘s Angel Eyes in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. He is also the underhanded puppet of big-business moguls who want profit but only if it looks legitimate á la Henry Fonda’s character in Once Upon a Time in the West. Jonathan Pryce’s town Mayor/Undertaker spends much of his time building coffins, a reference to a well known gag in Fistful of Dollars while at one point a horse drags a coffin into a town a homage to Django‘s famous opening shot. But the film is not a pastiche or a stylish homage. It is a violent, raw, brutal study of immigration to the frontier, in the grand tradition of the genre.
Mads Mikkelson has the screen presence to pull off the brooding settler, and the steely eye to be a believable ex-war veteran with a crack shot. Elsewhere Jeffrey Dean Morgan does his best Lee Van Cleef impression (and it’s a damn good one) while Eva Green is mute and manages to keep her clothes on. Former footballer Eric Cantana has maybe five lines max as Delarue’s right-hand man.
The climactic shootout, set in a derelict ghost town lost to oil drilling isn’t as dramatic and gripping as a High Noon or 3:10 to Yuma nor as tense as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, but like everything that comes before it is well choreographed and excellently shot.
The final shot of a town destroyed by the oil industry will leave you with no doubt as to who Levring thinks the real villains are.
The Verdict: No-one is going to be looking back in twenty years ans saying that The Salvation added anything classic or even original to the genre; but it tells a simple story damn well and is made by people who obviously have nothing but respect and admiration for spaghetti westerns. Fans should go and check it out.