The Danish director, Kristian Lovring, states that The Salvation is an homage to American westerns and represents his wish to emulate his idols in film: “John Ford, Sergio Leone, Akira Kurosawa…to be allowed to make a film in the genre where they excelled has been like a hallucinatory dream.”) It’s clearly a western, which starts out with an excruciating scene of senseless violence, and ends up with violence perhaps justified. The Danish ex-soldier Jon (Mikkelsen) has been in the US for seven years, making a place for his wife and son to join him. He meets them at the train, and there is unspeakable joy in reuniting. Unfortunately, they board a carriage for their home, and are confronted with two unsavory characters, one of which—Paul—behaves boorishly and seems to have no sense at all. He drinks liberally from a jug and begins to harass the family, and ends up dumping Jon off on the side of the road when he protests. But Jon is smart, and uses his head to track Paul down and find his wife and child. He is successful, and takes out his vengeance on Paul for what he has done.
Unbeknownst to Jon, perhaps—not clear—this invokes the wrath of Delarue (Morgan), Paul’s brother, who is even more unsavory. Not only is he offended by someone daring to ignore his authority, but he is going to exact payment from the townspeople for his personal loss.
Although the townspeople are aware of the brutality of Delarue and his gang, they seem to be helpless. They’re being extorted for “protection” (a la the mafia), yet they stand by inert. One even betrays Jon, presumably in the absurd hope that that will satisfy Delarue. Will the hero they’ve been waiting for, ever arrive?
Mikkelsen is made for this role—the patient, long-suffering good guy with the woeful eyes. Although Morgan’s roles in film and television have usually been “good guys”, he is a repulsive character here, which shows his acting range. Like most westerns, good and bad are drawn very clearly in The Salvation, with no gray In-between. The only ambiguous character is the wife of the slain Paul (Michael-Raymond James), Madeleine, who was left mute years before by marauding Indians. She has scars on her face, a mysterious tattoo, and eyes that, even though they speak to us, we cannot decipher. By the end, however, she reveals her real self.
This picture is from Denmark, and as such, gives us a glimpse of how people in other countries
regard our westerns. That their fascination with them is so enduring, is a bit of a puzzle for me. The director, Kristian Levring, says he asked himself why he wanted to return to a genre that is past its prime. It had something to do with his love of westerns as a child, as well as emulating his heroes Finally, he sees America’s western experience as similar to that of many Europeans’; that is, of people who venture far from their homes to join the birth of a new nation.
An American western coming from Denmark.
Grade: B By Donna R. Copeland