‘The Salvation’ Film Festival Review
Violence in movies is often romanticized. The same formula is repeated time and time again. The protagonist suffers tragedy, then overcomes it by heroically erasing the evil and riding away with a happy victory in the end. The death, destruction, and other heinous acts that occur throughout are often forgotten with hand-holding and smiles in the end.
This is not the formula used in Kristian Levring’s Danish western, The Salvation.
The Salvation is a dark, gritty, and intense film that hurts much of the way through. It’s a western, with the often used political undertone of the early life of the oil industry in an expanding America driving a dark war amongst men.
Arriving in America seven years prior, Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) is finally joined by his wife (Nanna Oland Fabricius) and son (Toke Lars Bjarke). On the stagecoach out of town the family is joined by a pair of men who quickly show an interest in Jon’s wife and create a scene. Forcing him out of the stagecoach, the two men violently end the lives of his family members setting off a series of events that involve Jon’s brother, Peter (Mikael Persbrandt), the town of Black , and the ruthless gang ran by Princees (Eva Green) and Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).
As straight-forward and shallow as that description sounds, The Salvation is anything but those things. The movie’s plot is much more twisted and deep, with an intense series of actions setting off a chain of cause-and-effect moments creating a somewhat depressing and grim reality for many of the characters. Character’s pasts drive decisions, and the turmoil of war spills into the every day frontier.
The Salvation is a dark movie; both on screen and in plot. Levring and co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen assembled a fantastic team both in front and behind the camera to tell a fresh story using a formula we have seen a couple of unsuccessful times before. The movie perfectly paints the picture of the frontier in 1871. Everybody has stubble or a beard. Women’s hair is somewhat ratty and twisted. Clothing is aged and dirty. The set is windy, dark, and plain. No fancy guns, clothing, or buildings. Just a simple town in the American frontier. This all falls in perfectly with some amazing cinematography, giving the movie life of its own.
Although the Eva Green train has been rolling in the past couple of years, I haven’t seen anything to convince me of her star power. Well, hadn’t seen anything. Even playing a mute, Eva Green demands attention when she’s on the screen. Her character’s tortured past is deeply transparent in her dark gaze. Her small grins, dark stares, and subtle movements create a complex addition to the usually fantastic dialogue flowing around her.
But could I ever complain about Jeffrey Dean Morgan? A fantastic actor that portrays a dark and twisted villainous man in the character Delarue. Although the complexity of this character isn’t to the level of The Comedian in The Watchmen, there is much more to this man than just a wild western thug often found in these westerns. The towns people understand he used to be a good man, and the possible effect of war and murdering off countless Native-Americans have driven him into a dark place.
Along with Green and Morgan, the remaining characters compliment Mads Mikkelsen well, too. Persbrandt’s role of Jon’s brother is strangely charming and astonishingly deep for such little screen time. The cowardice found in Jonathan Pryce’s Keane and the bravery in the young Alexander Arnold’s Volchek add a fantastic amount of dimension to The Salvation.
Mads Mikkelsen shows he is so much more than a Bond villain as Jon. Shining for a second year in a row at the Tallgrass Film Festival, Mikkelsen owns the scenes he is in and becomes a dark hero without taking on the likes of some superhero who gets to ride off into the sunset.
Overuse of the word intense throughout, but that’s the best way I can describe The Salvation. The dark and gritty film flirts with the undertones of showing what violence can really bring and what big oil was doing even before the 1900’s. The Salvation is a movie that boasts a good plot, an incredible group of actors giving strong performances, and a fantastic team behind the camera making the film come together.