3 out of 5
Directed by: Kristian Levring
The modern Western – sans Blockbuster exploits; sans more typical audience-baiting twists and explosions – has nestled into a small and consistent stream of content in the indie film scene. And indie, as we know, doesn’t mean what it once did: with more affordable equipment, something comparatively low budget can look mighty fine, and can also certainly attract recognizable talent like Mads Mikkelsen – off a hot streak at the time with TV show Hannibal – and Eva Green, and perpetual smarmy bad guy Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Director Kristian Levring takes that typically American genre (excusing its adaptation of samurai tropes) and gives it a generally unused spin that nonetheless perfectly captures the melting pot U.S. of days gone by: Danes and Spaniards stock the dusty plains of Salvation, Mikkelsen playing Jon, the Danish settler, who loses his recently-reunited-with son and wife to some vile fiends. And while his, and others’, foreign heritage isn’t necessarily used as impetus for being treated one way or another, the film does have an undercurrent of letting oneself get fucked by “progress”: changes are a’coming, and you’d best get out of the way.
Which, to a certain extent, is all Jon wants to do. He defends his family from some rowdy boys, but not before trying to make peace. He humbly wants to step out of the way of the aftermath until he’s viscerally dragged into it: The Salvation is a tried and true revenge flick, as Jon has no choice but to take up arms against the Dean Morgan-led varmints infesting his town.
The look of the flick is over-treated at times, but it lends a dream- or stage-like quality to it that makes it feel very effectively like a Western as opposed to a modern movie that just happens to have cowboys. Levring appreciably doesn’t dwell on things that don’t call for it. We understand the fate that befalls wife and child without lingering; the violence that follows isn’t glorified or wallowed in. The vengeance is straight-forward and perfunctory.
The Salvation doesn’t take any chances or dart down any unexpected plotways. It’s very concise filmmaking, giving its actors room to fill up their characters with personality but also giving us as much setup as we need in any given scene. It’s a movie you’ve seen before, yes, but effected with commitment that makes it a quality view.