Considering it was funded in Scandanavia and shot in South Africa by a Danish director with an almost exclusively European cast, Kristian Levring’s Western revenge tale The Salvation is certainly a bit of an oddity. Levring clearly knows the genre though, particularly Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah, and this is a film very much in the vein of some classic Westerns.
The film stars Mads Mikkelsen, the Danish star of TV’s Hannibal who, with his stony face and steely gaze, looks every bit the Western hero. He plays Jon, a Danish settler in the Wild West sometime in the 1870’s. He and his brother Peter (In A Better World’s Mikael Persbrandt) fall foul of local outlaw Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and soon they are embroiled in a bloody feud with Delarue’s men, while the cowardly locals are so afraid of Delarue that they’re happy to sell out Jon and Peter at a moment’s notice.
The Salvation is an atmospheric and textured film, from its sun-scorched visuals (CGI steps in to make South Africa look like the old West) and the cast packed out with suitably grizzled faces, none moreso than former footballer Eric Cantona as one of Delarue’s henchmen who, buried beneath a whopping beard, does some excellent mean mugging. The opening scene, which is almost unbearably tense, throws you straight into this ruthless, dangerous world where violence is never far away and Levring manages to maintain that feeling of dread and foreboding for much of the film’s first half, while all the pieces of the story start moving into place.
Unfortunately there comes a point somewhere midway through where it becomes clear where this story has to go and the plot never deviates from that path, feeling rote and conventional on the way to its bloody finale. The intriguing political manoeuvring between Delarue and the town’s mayor (Jonathan Pryce) never really comes to a satisfying conclusion either.
The film’s biggest asset is a talented cast, particularly the stoic Mikkelsen, the Eastwood to Levrings’s Leone, who seems right at home in this genre. Morgan looks the part as the villainous Delarue but the character isn’t much more than a one-dimensional villain; far more interesting is his mute sister-in-law, played with uncharacteristic nuance by Eva Green.
Ultimately, The Salvation feels like a potentially great entry into the revenge flick cannon that ends up as just a solid one. Some scenes are masterfully crafted and there are performances here, from Mikkelsen and Green, that probably deserve a more considered, fleshed-out story. As it stands, this an impressively detailed, solidly entertaining Western but, frustratingly, nothing more.