Danish director Kristian Levring, takes to the old west with The Salvation; a nuts and bolts western that does exactly what you want it to. He brings with him a fellow Dane, in the form of the always excellent Mads Mikkelsen, who plays a Danish settler named Jon. Jon and his brother have been working hard for the last seven years, trying to get a foothold in their new country, all the while separated from their family. Having gained some land and a home, the story picks up just as Jon is finally reunited with his wife and son. No sooner are they brought together, are they are torn apart again, as their stagecoach ride home takes a sinister, and deadly turn. Two newly released criminals rape Jon’s wife, before killing her and his son. Whilst Jon’s vengeance is swift and brutal, the event sparks off more trouble, when one of the killed criminals turns out to be none other than the brother of the dangerous Delarue, who Jon’s hometown live in constant fear of. As Delarue seeks retribution for the murder of his brother – because the Bible does say a tooth for a tooth after all – Jon has to decide whether to run, or take on Delarue and his gang.
The first thing you’ll notice about The Salvation, is the fantastic music by Kasper Winding. Sorrowful, moody, yet beautiful; Winding’s score of mournful guitars, not only sets up the tone of the film perfectly, but feels right out of a classic Western. This forms only part of what most people would call a homage to the genre – a tribute to the films of Sergio Leone, John Ford, and The Man With No Name himself, Clint Eastwood. Filled with vast, sweeping landscapes of barren, orange, deserts and mountains, Levring’s picture has all the familiarity of the genre it so wonderfully replicates. The country, and music, are characters in themselves, and the theme of masculine, bloody vengeance, are all here too, meaning that The Salvation sits comfortably in its generic gene pool.
What I really loved about the film is that it tells a simple, contained story. Running at a refreshingly brisk ninety minutes, the simplicity of the story allows it to develop slowly. We’re allowed to really get to know the characters in the film, particularly the vile and horrid villains of the piece, who we’re given plenty of time to hate over the course of the movie. Like a boiling pot, the tension builds and builds, until the film’s final act, which explodes into a flaming battle of bullets. By not over complicating things, The Salvation could be seen as unambitious, but what it lacks in ambition, it more than makes up for in its gut wrenching tension. It’s grounded by some excellent performances, has some beautiful photography, but more than anything, doesn’t try to be anything other than it is – a thrilling, by numbers Western.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com