Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Salvation review

The Salvation (2014)
Dir. Kristian Levring
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffery Dean Morgan, Johnathan Pryce

After seeking revenge for the death of his wife and son, Jon (Mikkelsen) becomes targeted by the brother of his family’s killer.

The Salvation is a Danish production that was filmed in South Africa. The film is beautifully shot*, with the deserts of South Africa standing in well for the west. The movie is a slow burn, with brief bits of violence leading up to an explosion of action at the end. The film is also bleak and grim, with a strong pessimistic tone throughout. This film is not for everyone. It is very reminiscent of the old spaghetti westerns, but at the same time it feels like its own thing and not like a slavish homage to the older films. The scene at the beginning with Jon’s family on the stagecoach is tense, and the final battle at the end is good, with a great inventive kill involving kerosene. But the movie is impressive in how it does a lot of storytelling with visuals rather than through dialogue. Scenes like Jon’s brother returning home or the aftermath Jon’s escape from the gang show you things rather than explaining, and it allows you to fill in the gaps.  Even the townspeople are quickly set up in a way that you can figure out who’s who without a lot of explanations, which helps movie the film along.

Mads Mikkelsen is good in the role of Jon, the hero of the film. His character doesn’t have much to say, but in the traditions of spaghetti westerns he conveys a lot through his face. He spends most of the movie expressing quilt or rage, and he’s very believable in the role. Had he been born a few decades earlier it would be easy to see him playing roles in those Euro westerns, and in this film he kind of reminded me of Lee Van Cleef, which is something that I never thought about while watching him on Hannibal. But he is really good in the film, and that really wasn't a surprise to me since he was been doing a lot of good and interesting work in recent years.

Mikklesen's Casino Royale costar Eva Green plays the mute character Madeline. She was one of the things that I was looking forward to seeing in this film since she has been giving some great performances that have elevated some mediocre films**.  Since her character is mute she is forced to conveying things with her face, which she does a good job at that thanks to her expressive face and big eyes. She’s said in interviews that the challenge of playing a character that can’t speak was one of the things that drew her to this role, along with her desire to act in a western. Jeffery Dean Morgan seems to be having fun in the role of Delarue, the villain of the film. His character is a former army soldier that is famed for killing Indians that is now leading a gang that is charging the town for protection while running off the honest people that just want a place to live. He is extremely entertaining in scenes where he gets to menace the townspeople, which while he is fun to watch during these moments he still feels scary. And Johnathan Pryce is good in a smaller role of the town’s mayor/undertaker, bringing a bit of sleaziness to the film. Also worth mentioning is Mikael Persbrandt as Jon’s brother Peter. He has a similar look to Mikklesen so it feels believable that they could be brothers, but in the brief scenes at the beginning you see how different they could be. His character doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time but he is good at playing a quiet, heroic brother to Jon.

Odd observation: The movie features one Bond girl (Green), and two Bond villians (Mikkelsen and Pryce), two of which were in the same movie together. Maybe one day Daniel Craig will be in a good western***.

This is an interesting movie with good performances. It’s worth checking out, if you’re in the mood for something grim. But between this film, Slow West, and the upcoming films The Hateful Eight and The Keeping Room it seems like a good year for westerns with each of these four films seeming to all be extremely different from each other. But

*There’s one shot at the beginning in the stagecoach that is kind of a bad looking rear projection shot, but it’s quick and not too noticeable. But other than that the film is great looking.

**Like Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and 300: Rise of an Empire. I wouldn’t call either of those movies great but her performances in both films are stellar and worth seeing.

*** I know he was in Cowboys and Aliens but that is not a good movie and one that I don't think I could even bring myself to watch a second time just to trash it here.

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