It’s been a couple years since a truly great Western came out. That is, until I found ‘The Salvation.’ Technically The Salvation came out before 2015’s Bone Tomahawk (what I cite as the last great western to come out). Maybe it’s the rise in popularity of Mads Mikkelsen but The Salvation hit my Netflix radar this past week. After reading the synopsis and checking out the awesome cast, I was in.
In the wild American west of the 1870’s a Danish settler has been working hard for seven long lonely years to set up a life for his wife and child. When Marie Jensen (Nanna Øland Fabricius) and Kresten (Toke Lars Bjarke) meet Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) he tries to assure his family that life will be good. It doesn’t take long for humanities ugliest side to rear its head. Marie and Kresten are treated brutally and killed while a helpless Jon tries to put a stop to it.
Having been unable to stop the murder of his wife and child Jon takes matters into his own hands. He murders the guilty parties. His actions piss off an infamous gang leader, Henry Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Delarue rules over the only town local to Jon’s homestead through fear. The townspeople turn on Jon quickly. Jon’s only ally is his brother, Peter (Mikael Persbrandt).
It takes right around twelve minutes for The Salvation to throw away any veneer of being an immigrant story, a love story, or anything other than out and out revenge. Revenge and westerns go hand in hand. The spaghetti western made this famous in the days of Clint Eastwood and John Wayne before him. Mads Mikkelsen kicks up the brutality from the classics without delving into the cringe worthy brutal nature of the aforementioned Bone Tomahawk, and I mean that as a compliment to both films.
Mads Mikkelsen’s performance was the shining gem in this film. The cinematography, tone, and setting were all on point but Mikkelsen is a commanding actor who doesn’t acquire the audience’s attention, but demands it. Even the powerful Jeffrey Dean Morgan, especially strong when playing a villain, is overshadowed by Mikkelsen.
Much of the film’s dialogue is subtitled but don’t let that deter you, if that kind of thing does deter you. The Salvation is not a film that leans into dialogue to get its message across. The character interactions are more primal in nature and there is no mistaking who stands where, or why. The old adage goes that ‘actions speak louder than words’ and the character of Jon Jensen understands that perfectly.
The cinematography is beautiful. One major aspect of the western genre as a whole is the beautiful scenery. While this film was shot in South Africa the American landscapes were added in in post and the result is incredibly convincing. The pan of the camera and dead on brutality of the violence tells a beautifully angry story.
The Salvation isn’t the most original film you’ll watch this week but it’s definitely entertaining. The performance of Mads Mikkelsen is the true stand out but the remainder of the film is incredible as well.