Saturday, October 25, 2014

Film Review: The Salvation

Copyright: Nordisk Film
When I hear the term “Danish western”, there aren’t many associations that rush to my mind. After all, Denmark doesn’t sound as if it has much to do with cowboys in a wide and open prairie, unlike, for example, Italy. 

Instead, the region would be more easily associated with the culture of northern raiders called Vikings (which is a Nordic term for raiders, and not an ethnic group of people) the plundered much of coastal western Europe before they became one of the bastions of advanced socialized government systems. But, after a closer inspection, there is an underlying theme that could connect Vikings and the Wild West, and that theme is brutality.

Like in the years of legendary Viking leaders like Ragnar Lodbrok, the period of the western colonization of the US was bloody and dominated by the notion of might equals right. In The Salvation movie, the story opens with a joyful reunion: after many years, a Danish settler named Jon finally is reunited with his wife and child.

His brother sees them off after the meeting at a train station, and they take a horse carriage to their new home. In that carriage, however, an encounter sparks a series of ruthless events that culminate in death of pretty much everyone.

Directed by Kristian Levring, the film accepts brutality as something of a fact, not its point of interest. The small town where Jon resides (or is at least settled close by) is under the thumb of a psychopathic gang leader who terrorizes the cowardly inhabitants. He, in turn, is terrorized by powerful robber barons who wish to see a railway line going through that part of the country. There is no law, no justice and no remorse, only the methods of survival and revenge.

The cast of the film was picked flawlessly. Mads Mikkelsen is coldly present in every scene as Jon, and he depicts a man who forgot how to mourn or be sad; instead, he is driven by invisible rage and interested in nothing else. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is equally good as the gang leader, while the fantastic Jonathan Pryce gives maybe the best role of the film as the treacherous, subservient Mayor Keane. Eva Green, who plays a mute woman, continues her great streak of this year that began with Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.

The Salvation 2014 works both as an independent historical film with a good cinematic style (which often reminded me of oil paintings) and a much shallower revenge western action flick.  With the skill of Kristian Levring, these two calmly coexist and even enforce one another.