The western setting has provided a backdrop for all sorts of films, but the traditional revenge story is undoubtedly one that is suited to the style and can utilise the good guy/bad guy stereotypes that are synonymous with the cinematic history of the genre. Adding a Scandinavian flavour to the formula in ‘The Salvation’ is Danish filmmaker Kristian Levring who was one of the pioneers behind the avant-garde movement Dogme 95. The leading man, known only as Jon, is played by fellow countryman Mads Mikkelsen, and his survival chances are left slim to none following events that cruelly take his family away from him. His initial act of vengeance starts an almighty feud with land baron Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), his henchman The Corsican (Eric Cantona) and the rest of the local community. With his brother Peter (Mikael Persbrandt) his only ally, can he overturn his odds and leave town alive?
The narrative wastes no time in establishing the back-story of the film’s protagonist with a prologue and setting up the conflict, involving harrowing scenes in the opening thirty minutes or so. The seriousness falters at times to make way for more light-hearted notes as the kill count rises which create some minor tonal inconsistencies. The plotting avoids the beaten track to subvert expectations every time the predictable route is hinted at, and big performances help in building intensity in the inevitable Mexican standoff scenarios. Mikkelsen and Morgan are equally effective in their rivalry, the former putting his own spin on cowboy heroics whilst the latter brings frightening menace and brutality to the villain role. Eva Green is superb in a totally mute but subtly moving performance as the long-suffering Madelaine, who is Delarue’s widowed sister-in-law. Even former footballer Eric Cantona doesn’t let the side down when it comes to acting and gets by hardily in a vicious sidekick part.
Visually, ‘The Salvation’ tips it’s Stetson to the classic westerns, and in particular the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s with wide desolate landscapes and extreme use of bloody violence. It’s a gripping, gruelling experience, fitting for the big screen and the strong central performance is key in letting the dustiness of the film engulf us in Jon’s relentless fight for righteousness. Often in his struggle, just when it he seems to have got the upper hand and someone comes to his aid, events take a sudden downturn and he is back to square one. In spite of his misfortunes, he never fails to rise to the challenges he is faced with, making him an endearing and entertaining western hero who you would gladly ride alongside on horseback.