salvation_2Year: 2015
Director: Kristian Levring
Writer(s): Anders Thomas Jensen, Kristian Levring
Region of Origin: Denmark, UK, South Africa
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 92 mins

Synopsis: In 1870s America, a peaceful American settler kills his family’s murderer which unleashes the fury of a notorious gang leader. (Source)

As the saying goes, too much of anything is bad for you. Anyone making this argument meets me with disagreement however when it comes to Westerns; at the present time, they are as sparse as tumble weeds rolling across a southern California cityscape. As such, director Kristian Levring’s revenge thriller, The Salvation, is a welcome entry filled with great performances, cinematography, and suspense, but ultimately succumbs to a lackluster script and poor pacing.

The film follows Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) and Peter (Mikael Persbrandt), Danish immigrants making a living in a dying town, as the land once referred as the frontier moves farther and farther Westward, away from them. Jon’s family is murdered in cold blood as they come to America to meet him. He kills the men responsible including the brother of General Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who takes an entire town hostage until they turn over the man responsible.

This is your classic Italian Western set up. A shell of a town, one chiseled faced, hard eyed badass and a villain wearing a big hat with an even bigger mustache. At it’s most exciting, the film is a tense exercise in cat and mouse suspense as Jon comes up with creative ways to dispatch dastardly henchmen – he’s an ex-soldier so he’s got some skills. At its worst, the film is paced unevenly, coming to a complete halt whenever the film develops its characters.

Mads Mikkelsen brings an intensity to the role that no other actor could handle. In scenes with no dialogue, he brings a fiery intensity with only his facial expressions and body language. Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Delarue is a worthy adversary, but ultimately too much of a characterized Western villain to really match the level of Mikkelsen’s Jon. Equally as enjoyable is Persbrandt in scenes opposite Mikkelsen. The two have a weathered chemistry that brings authenticity to the relationship between two brothers having gone through hell together.

salvation_3Director Kristian Levring makes use of South Africa’s sprawling mesas and landscapes to recreate the American West of the late 1800s. During sequences of great action, the camera is steady, the shots are well composed and framed interestingly for the eye. That being said, I got the impression that this was an early effort for the director (this is Levring’s third feature film). The film definitely contains more substance than it does style.

As exciting as it is, the film doesn’t quite work. The script by both Levring and Anders Thomas Jensen drags on in between moments of excitement. Delarue is at times so over-the-top he doesn’t match the aesthetic of the rest of the film. He’s too serious to be campy and too campy to be taken seriously. Not to mention the absolute waste of the amazing Eva Green, who plays a menacing mute.

The Salvation sets out to tell the story of a man who goes down a dark path to seek vengeance for the death of his family. Though at heart Jon is a good person, he will not allow himself to be commended for killing another man. He knows that the murder of another person makes him a monster. The film inconsistently delivers this message as it stumbles more than it gallops. Ultimately, there are moments of glimmering excitement amongst a dense brush of ho-hum story.

EV

Author Eduardo Victoria loves all things film and music related. If he’s not writing, he’s playing music or scoring films. Follow him @eduardovictory for more.