It has been more than 20 years since retired sheriff Clint Eastwood took “one last job” and turned The Unforgiven into a rare modern commercial and awards success for the no-frills western. Now Denmark’s Kristian Levring is having a crack at the rifle with his Danish-American version (shot in English), playing all the conventions like a banjo. He’s certainly got the armoury to back him up: Mads Mikkelson has the face for the frontier and just the right level of internalised, righteous rage to keep The Salvation on a rusty-knife-edge throughout.
Levring’s cameraman Jens Schlosser delivers a glowing West, with much shot under cover of night, and designer Jorgen Munch dreams up a town that may be familiar but a villain’s lair that is anything but.
Mikkelson has crossover appeal and the curiosity value of seeing the talented Danish star of The Huntand Hannibal fronting a classic American Western should carry Salvationsafely across the international art house frontier. Eva Green and Jeffrey Dean Morgan also give strong support in this nicely paced, handsomely mounted film (which shot in South Africa).
Kristian Levring (The King Is Dead), working from his script with Anders Thomas Jensen, doesn’t try for the revisionist elements of The Quick And The Dead or From Dusk Til Dawn. Instead he fully abandons his Dogme roots to deliver a dusty homage to classics including High Noon, and the tribute is sure to be appreciated, even if reaching the awards summit of The Unforgiven is an ask.
Levring makes the “Danish angle” work by casting Mikkelsen as Jon, a former soldier who moved with his brother (Mikel Persbrandt) to America after losing to Germany in 1864. They have spent seven hard years establishing a homestead outside the town of Black Creek, and now it is time for Jon’s much-missed wife and son to join them.
The west was wild because it was brutally lawless, and Jon’s family falls victim to predatory members of the Delaurue clan on the stagecoach journey home to Black Creek. When his wife and child are brutally murdered, Jon responds violently in kind, taking out the local hard man’s brother.
Colonel Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) holds Black Creek in his villainous thrall – he’s never been the same since he murdered all them Indians, mutters one cowed townsperson. Furious at the death of his brother, he, in turn, will come looking for his revenge, and he will take no prisoners. Meanwhile the silent widow “Princess” (Eva Green) stands by and watches.
Following genre conventions, the local townspeople are universally cowed and helpless, with the mayor (Jonathan Pryce) doubling up as a busy undertaker, and the priest (Douglas Henshall) also serving as the sheriff. A young boy may be the only one amongst them with the spirit to resist Delarue’s tyranny.
Levring’s cameraman Jens Schlosser delivers a glowing West, with much shot under cover of night, and designer Jorgen Munch dreams up a town that may be familiar but a villain’s lair that is anything but. The gunfights don’t overstay their welcome, either, working within Levring’s snappy 87-minute running time. The classic Western hero is always an outsider, and Levring, coming at it with a completely foreign perspective, somehow salts the dustyTheSalvation to give it a different, highly palatable taste.