Director: Kristian Levring
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Eric Cantona
Running Time: 92 minutes
Release Date: April 17th
Since the heyday of the genre ended, we’re usually granted, on average, one fantastic western every five years. The last two decades or so have given us the likes of The Proposition, Unforgiven, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and No Country for Old Men. While never exactly reinventing the genre – is the Western the only genre that is impenetrable to reinvention? – they’ve still managed to put a new twist on an old tale, something which The Salvation attempts to do, but despite some handsome performances from a great cast, it fails to leave much of an impression.
It all begins promisingly enough, as ex-Danish soldier Jon (Mikkelsen) has moved to the US to get a head-start on a new life. Having not seen them for a number of years, we find him collecting his wife and son from the train station to bring them to their new home, when things go bleakly awry within minutes. Before long, Jon’s wife and son have been murdered, and Jon exacts revenge on the murderers. Grim as things seem now, things take a turn for the even worse, as it turns out that Jon has killed the baby brother of local heavy Delarue (Morgan), who holds Jon’s entire town to a violent ransom unless they turn him in.
The initial, uniquely dour atmosphere is soon replaced by one of clichéd scenarios – Which Man Can Revenge The Hardest?! – and even more clichéd characters; Jonathan Pryce as a dodgy dealing town mayor, Eric Cantona (?!) as a brainless back-up thug, even the great Jeffrey Dean Morgan isn’t immune to his character’s one-dimensionality. There’s an over-riding sense of frustration, one where just a little bit of complication might’ve helped the film go a long way. Characters do things because it helps the story move along faster, not because it necessarily makes a whole lot of sense.
Despite these annoyances, there’s still a lot to be enjoyed here, especially from Mikkelsen’s fantastically nuanced performance, so brilliantly believable as a mourning father and husband as well as someone who very well could take out a whole town of bad cowboys. Then there’s Eva Green as Delarue’s now-widowed sister-in-law, her character rendered mute and facially disfigured, the actress’ preternatural beauty stripped from her in every way, allowing her to expose depths of character otherwise unreachable. Shot in a scorched and barren South Africa, the cinematography will bring to mind Lean, Leone and Ford, even if some dodgy CGI will pull you out of the moment from time to time.
So, as we said, we’re usually given a great western every five years or so. The Salvation is not this half-decade’s great western, but it’s a suitable stop-gap until that great one comes along.