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New Release Review - The Salvation

A Danish immigrant in the Old West makes a dangerous enemy when he avenges the killing of his wife and son.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Kristian Levring

Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Eric Cantona, Mikael Persbrandt, Douglas Henshall, Jonathan Pryce



Scandinavians haven't fared well on their screen travels recently. We've seen a Swedish family torn apart by an act of patriarchal cowardice on an Alpine skiing trip (Force Majeure), and witnessed Viggo Mortensen's 19th century Danish engineer disappear into a surreal Argentine landscape (Jauja). Now, with The Salvation, we have Mads Mikkelsen as a former Danish soldier finding life in the Old West isn't the picture postcard he imagined.
It's 1876 and Mikkelson's Jon has spent the past seven years establishing a new life for himself and his brother in the New World. The time has come for his wife and son to join him, but while travelling on a stagecoach a pair of drunken varmints behave abusively to his missus, kicking Jon out onto the dusty road. By the time he catches up, his wife and son have been murdered, and Jon wastes no time in dispatching their killers. To compound Jon's bad luck, one of the dead men happens to be the brother of Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a violent enforcer for the railroad who runs a sadistic protection racket in the local town.
Westerns have been a rarity in recent decades, with the few we have been proffered falling very much into the 'revisionist' camp, usually revolving around anti-heroes attempting to escape their evil pasts (see Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, Kevin Costner in Open Range and Pierce Brosnan in the all too overlooked Seraphim Falls). The Salvation is refreshingly traditional, leaving us in no doubt as to who the goodies and baddies are here. Sure, Jon has a violent past, but it's in the service of defending his country, not massacring Native Americans or running with a gang.
With his piercing but melancholy blue eyes, Mikkelsen makes for an effectively tortured hero in the Franco Nero mould. Jeffrey Dean Morgan chews up the scenery in the role of his life as one of the cruellest villains the genre has ever foisted upon us, forcing the townsfolk to sacrifice two of their members, then killing a third in cold blood when they offer up an amputee and an octogenarian. Playing a deaf mute, scarred and tattooed at the hands of Apaches, Eva Green is a portrait of coiled resentment as Princess, the object of Delarue's unwanted affections.
The residents of the small town presented here are a backstabbing, cowardly bunch, reminiscent of those in the Jimmy Stewart / Henry Fonda oater Firecreek. In squaring up to Delarue, Jon becomes their saviour, even if they don't really deserve his aid. There's a healthy disrespect for religion here, with the town's crooked sheriff doubling as the local priest, torn between his flock and appeasing Delarue.
One aspect The Salvation presents that we haven't seen too often is a representation of the West as a multicultural land, as it indeed was, but this is an aspect that's been overlooked by most Westerns to date. Immigrants flocked to the West from all across Europe, often carrying tribal resentments over to their new home, as seen here when Eric Cantona, as Delarue's Corsican muscle, tells Jon "You have my respect" upon hearing he fought against Germany.
It may be a pan-European production shot on location in South Africa (a perfect stand-in for Monument Valley), but The Salvation is as thrilling a western as any we've seen from Hollywood recently.




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