Director: Kristian Levring
There are few genres as specific to fans as Westerns. Dramas can be about any topic, spin in any direction, make any point. Comedies can be whatever style, with whatever plot line, doing whatever it takes to make us laugh. But Westerns don’t have that same freedom of voice, because fans of the genre know exactly what they want. As with horror, Westerns must have a few key ingredients to even be accepted. Horror better feature a few boobs (perhaps on a babysitter), a few screams (again, the babysitter can do it), tons of blood (yes, some from the babysitter), and something that frightens us enough to remember it when we head to bed. Not all horror movies are the same of course, and some veer from the standard b-movie recipe, but sit an aficionado down with a DVD and there are things that he’ll expect. The same goes for Westerns. The desperate town, an evil dictator, the stunning countryside, a beautiful damsel, the loading of guns, a quiet hero; this is what we’ve come to expect, and you’d better deliver or get kicked off the coach. The Salvation instantly appears to satisfy in every category, but it’s the delivery of these standard rules that makes it a great Western, not just one by definition.
The movie begins with the story of Jon Jensen. In 1864, and following Danish defeats in the Schleswig Wars, Jon and his brother Peter immigrated to the United States from Denmark. These two ex-soldiers built a respectable homestead on the American western frontier outside a small town, some distance away from a small city that featured a rail stop. A life of peace & solitude suited them, as did the hard-working & enterprising spirit of the West, but Jon left something behind in Denmark that he desperately missed; his wife and infant son. But after seven years and the establishment of their ranch, Jon & Peter are ready to care for their family once again. Marie & Kresten arrive by train to this strange new land, not knowing the customs or the language, but ready to bond with the man who left them so long ago and has been lovingly preparing for their arrival ever since.
But the frontier is a treacherous place filled with treacherous men, some of who will take what they want when they want it. On the stagecoach ride back from the city, Marie & Kresten are murdered by two evil outlaws. Their deaths set into motion a series of events that will rock the small town near which Jon lives and the lives of every single resident. Because, while Jon seeks bloody revenge on the men who killed his family, it is revealed that one of them was the brother of the most dangerous villain for many miles, Colonel Henry Delarue. An ex-officer, Delarue is now a powerful crime boss with men & arms at his disposal. He runs the town, commands the mayor, intimidates the sheriff, commandeers whatever he desires, and kills any who displease him. Now he wants Jon’s head, and the town doesn’t have the backbone to oppose him. So two men begin an epic game of light vs dark that will most assuredly end in death.
At first, The Salvation seems to be too typical for its own good. It brings all the classic plot points to the foreground so quickly that I worried the film would be over before there was time for any real, original cinema. The quiet hero, the supportive brother, the pretty wife, the barren landscape, the little town, the mayor & sheriff, the evil tycoons, the gun-slinging tyrant; it was all set up to follow a very cheesy timeline. But here’s the surprise; someone was talented enough to write/direct a story that was equal parts nod & pioneer, and that man was Kristian Levring. The Danish director put love into this film, channeling all the classic Westerns of old but adding just enough originality to keep fans on their toes. Yes the story was fairly typical, but some excellent Frank Miller-esque artistry made the visuals both exciting & modern. It wasn’t a graphic novel, nor did it feature the same dramatized gore, but an attention to color & detail gave the film a very specific feel, a stylized Western that intentionally fit the genre first and then elevated itself after.
And speaking of Frank Miller, Eva Green slid right into a role that seemed a perfect fit. 300: Rise of an Empire, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For; she’s used to violence done this way, a story that becomes a melodrama set against a backdrop of blood. She’s a little colder & more crazy is some of her other roles (Cracks, Dark Shadows, White Bird in a Blizzard) and she’s naked in almost everything she’s in (The Dreamers, Perfect Sense, Camelot), but this character is slightly different, giving her a little more depth to play with while silently telling us a story. Mads Mikkelson is himself an actor who knows how to use silence, playing a mute warrior in Valhalla Rising and the evil Le Chiffre in Casino Royale, which also starred Eva Green, incidentally. These two great actors combined to create a mood Western, a movie based more on style than on substance, but with a cool background that should satisfy the biggest fan. It doesn’t employ the humor of Slow West, nor the heart of The Homesman, but The Salvation carves out a spot for itself in the genre and declares firmly that its a Western to be taken seriously.
Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, the video quality of The Salvation is everything you could ask from a stellar Blu-ray disc. The film was shot on an Arri Alexa Plus camera with Zeiss Ultra Prime and Angenieux Optimo Lenses. Its visuals are stunning, to use an overused word, but that happens to be a perfect way to describe them. Shot after shot was directed to complete visual excellence, with the landscape providing the background but the cinematography delivering the extra artistic oomph. The picture quality was top-notch, with a brilliant use of color, texture, and focus. Every scene is crisp & clear, using every available aspect of Blu-ray technology available.
Audio – The disc was done in DTS-HD Master Audio English 5.1 Surround, with an option available to switch to 2.0 English PCM Lossless. Also, subtitles can be chosen in English SDH or Spanish. The sound quality of the Blu-ray was flawless, with a great balance between dialogue and action, something that’s not always the case when it comes to movies in this style done on this media. The music, the subtle conversations, the ambiance of the plains; the audio came together quite well and aided the mood of the movie.
Extras – There are a few great extras available on the Blu-ray disc. Interviews; 45 total minutes of one-on-one conversation with Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Douglas Henshall, Eva Green, Nanna Oland Fabricius, and co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen. Behind the Scenes; 7 total minutes of footage, with six separately entitled segments: The Dream, Guns, Horseriding, Man with Cigar, Building the City, Western Genre. Trailer; 2 total minutes of theatrical trailer for the film.
Highly Recommended. A few last minute words of praise for The Salvation and I will leave you with the hope that you will see & enjoy this well-made Western. Not often do I notice the choreography of scenes, let alone gunfight scenes, but the action was so flawlessly executed that I couldn’t help but admire the talent behind the scripting of the battles. They were sharp, made sense, and fit inside the quick 90 minutes of the film. So much content for so short a time, but adventures don’t have to take forever, they can spring on you suddenly and surprise you with their ferocity. Also, keep an eye out for Jonathan Pryce in a key role, a man I’ll always love for his work in Brazil. He and the rest of the side characters succeed in adding to the depth of the story, while never taking away from the main point, weaving themselves into the tapestry of the picture. Fans of the genre and newcomers alike can find both entertainment and quality here in a Western that is at once like so many others and able to stand completely on its own.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay