I’m always ready to watch a Western—even if it comes from
Denmark and was shot in South Africa! That’s the pedigree for The Salvation, which stars Mads
Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Jonathan Pryce. This handsome,
widescreen movie doesn’t try to reinvent the genre; in fact, quite the
opposite. It’s a ritualistic morality tale that foreshadows its conclusion in
the opening scenes. Some might call it a parade of genre clichés, but the film
is less about the destination than the journey. Were it not for good
performances and visual flair it would be easier to dismiss.
The year is 1871. Mikkelsen and his brother (Mikael
Persbrandt), having fought for their native Denmark in the war with Germany,
have resettled in the American West. Mikkelsen hasn’t seen his wife and son in
seven years, but they are arriving by train to join him; the family will be
reunited at last. Needless to say, things don’t go as planned.
The town of Black Creek, named for the oil that contaminates
the water supply, has made Mikkelsen and his brother welcome, but the men who
supposedly run it are under the thumb of a ruthless villain named Delarue
(Morgan). Morgan does everything but twirl a mustache as an irredeemable bad
guy (who, we’re told, used to be a good man). Green plays his sister-in-law,
whose tongue was cut out by Indians but whose sympathies are still made clear.
I’m always hoping the next big Western will be the one to
convert skeptics to the genre, but I’m afraid this isn’t it. It hews too
closely to convention, although director Kristian Levring and his co-writer
Anders Thomas Jensen show originality in the particulars of the final showdown.
Still, I am a sucker for Westerns and I enjoyed watching
this one unfold. The cast is game and the scenery is eye-filling. I’ll give it
an A for effort.