As a kid, I grew up watching classic Western flicks. My parents knew that, in general, the Western genre was relatively tame – lots of action, but minimal gore and virtually no profanity. I grew up idolising John Wayne for his role in legendary titles like ‘Big Jake’, ‘Rio Lobo’, and ‘The Alamo’. I was obsessed with being one of ‘The Magnificent Seven’ or taking the ‘3:10 To Yuma.’ Thus, the Western genre will always have a special place in my heart. That’s why it was so disappointing that the early/mid-2000s Western revival kind of misfired; ‘Open Range’, ‘The Missing’, the ‘3:10 To Yuma’ remake and ‘Seraphim Falls’ were all pretty big flops. In fact, aside from ‘The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford’, the decade had produced a dearth of legitimate, original content within the genre. Perhaps the great depth of Westerns produced during the golden era of film had left filmmakers hopelessly scrambling for new ideas. Perhaps studios eventually figured consumers were tired of it. Nevertheless it’s about time somebody put a fresh perspective on the good ole Wild West. Enter, ‘The Salvation’.
Directed by Kristian Levring and starring Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale), the two Danishmen present the Wild West in a whole different light. Their take on the traditional American-Western is certainly something to behold, from dual-language dialogue, to the impressive inclusion of references to a total of 62 classic westerns, with various nods and winks throughout the film. Now, I recognised a handful of these references, but the fact that ‘The Salvation’ is so captivating, probably kept me from looking for more.
In post-civil war America, a peaceful Danish family is settling out west. One fateful night, two recently released criminals steal from Jon the Danishman (Mikkelsen), killing his wife and child. In retaliation, Jon does what anyone else would do – track those suckers down and fills them full of lead. Obviously, everyone is related to someone, and one of “those suckers” happens to be the brother of a notorious gang leader (and entrepreneur, as it turns out). Henry Delarue, the antagonistic crook played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan (who in all honestly might actually be Javier Bardem), unleashes a flurry of hell on the local town. The cowardly town sells out Jon, and offers him up to Delarue as penance. Nonetheless, Jon escapes, forced to enact a bloody reckoning on the outlaws alone. The lovely Eva Green (Also in Casino Royale) pops up here too, but she doesn’t have a tongue after Indians cut it out, and she literally does not speak a single line. You’ve got to love the commitment levels of actors these days.
The attention to detail Levring gives to even the most arcane throwaway scene is astounding. While ‘The Salvation’ takes a feint attempt at a multi-layered narrative, with a surreptitious scheme by Delarue to buy up land for oil speculation, I’m glad they decided to abandon that before things got too weird. Admittedly, it would have been a good fit, had they extended the film another thirty minutes, but nobody has time for that. I don’t know about you, but I want cowboys lighting stuff on fire with oil lamps and shooting Winchester rounds through wood walls into unsuspecting enemies.
Pair ‘The Salvation’ with the recent Western ‘Slow West’, starring Michael Fassbender, a film you should definitely also see. I believe, and hope, we are beginning to experience a renaissance of the genre as alternative ideologies and perspectives get their hands on it. The hit ‘Slow West’ was the debut writing and directorial gig for director Jon Maclean, and it’s people like he and Levring that the Western genre needs if it is to get past the methodically slow, horse-riding, sun setting, six shooter platitude it’s been for some time. ‘The Salvation’ has everything you want in a classic western and more. Nothing beats a stand-off between a surly, pistol-slinging protagonist and a grisly rifle-bound outlaw gang.
Director: Kristian Levring
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan