The Salvation – Movie Review by Frank L
Directed by Kristian Levring
Writers: Anders Thomas Jensen, Kristian Levring
Stars: Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Set in North America in the 1870’s, Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) and his bachelor brother Paul, ex-soldiers, have emigrated from Denmark following a heavy defeat at the hands of the Germans. They have through their brawn created a domestic homestead in the harsh and arid land. They are true frontiersmen. As Jon has created a home, Jon’s wife and seven year old son join them in the New World. They arrive safely by train at the nearest railway station in the primitive frontier settlement.
But on the journey by stagecoach from the settlement to Jon’s homestead, Jon and his family encounter the brother of the local corrupt and violent “godfather” De la Rue. Jon’s life changes brutally. He and his brother become outlaws in this small society, which apparently governed by law is in fact governed by De La Rue. The small community is in thrall to him and his thugs. The underlying obsession of De La Rue is the land which contains the new gold, the soon to become omnipotent, oil…black gold.
Shot in South Africa, this is a magnificent, dusty, verismo, American Western. There are all the usual characters the good, Jon, his wife, his son and his brother; the bad De La Rue, his brother and his enforcer. The town folk are all there with their imperfections, prejudices and occasional idealism and includes the sheriff who is also the pastor to this flock, the undertaker who is a canny businessman and a wise old woman who owns the local store. All are familiar types encountered in traditional Hollywood westerns. However the performance of Mads Mikkelsen as Jon carries this film to great heights. His rage against the obscene violence of De La Rue’s henchmen is considered, even if extreme. His military skills and that of his brother are applied with acumen when they are forced to face the brutal world of De La Rue. It all takes place at a helter-skelter clip. The sub plot involving De La Rue’s mute sister-in-law creates a further array of loyalties which appear to be immutable but her silence is not of choice having had her tongue cut out by native Indians.
The scenery is dusty, dry and dessicated. The clothes are lived in, used, the working clothes of hard working people. The horses are working horses, no fiery steeds. The buildings have an austerity and simplicity; the interiors are bare board. There is no dark red, overly stuffed, velvet armchairs… this is the frontier, hard, wooden, spartan simplicity is the order of the day.
Maybe the physical harshness of the climate of so much of Scandinavia gives to a Scandinavian an insight as to what the American frontier was truly like in the 1870’s. Given this harshness the well-known Hollywood Western can be created anew with a lean, ascetic sensibility. Undoubtedly this is a Western but told by one of the constituents of the great melting pot of nationalities which has created the Americans. It seems in the twenty first century that maybe it takes one of those nationalities to create today “the Western”. Kristian Levring makes a strong case for the Danes to be the nationality, with this well-constructed, bare, beautifully shot, full-blooded Western.