Twitter Plot Summary: After his wife and son are murdered, Danish immigrant Jon seeks revenge.
Westerns are few and far between these days. After its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, the commercial aspect of the genre seems to have been lost and it’s only those who are aware of genre conventions that tend to make them. What we’ve had since that peak period are some very serious but well received Westerns that tick all of the genre convention boxes but rarely descend into obvious cliche. Vengeance is a key theme of any Western, and The Salvation is no different.
The year is 1871 and Danish immigrant Jon (Mads Mikkelson) has been living in the United States for seven years alongside his brother Peter (Mikael Persbrandt). His wife and son join him for the first time in the New World, only for tragedy to strike on a tense stagecoach journey where they’re joined by a couple of less reputable gentlemen. After Jon has gained the revenge he is due, it transpires that one of the men he killed is the brother of a local and vicious gang leader, which sets off a chain of events leading to a showdown between Jon and the gang.
This is a world where there are no good people, where it’s almost a necessity for every man to be so grizzled that he’s almost inaudible. A world where people die and are killed indiscriminately, where the law is frequently in your own hands. It wasn’t called the Wild West for nothing, after all.
This is a multicultural West, emphasised by the Danish origin of the lead character. Mikkelsen plays the role along similar lines to Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name, capable of staring a hole through you from a thousand yards, yet also not being completely immune to pain and physical injury. Much like Daniel Craig’s James Bond, he is a more believable hero because he can be physically and emotionally hurt, yet still push through to get the job done.
Jonathan Pryce rocks an excellent beard as the Mayor of the small town, tripling up as undertaker and property/land buyer. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays Delarue, the Big Bad. He’s the aforementioned grizzled guy, barely raising his voice above a whisper. There’s much more to his role in the area than simple revenge, of course. There’s oil in them thar hills! This area of vast riches is an interesting side point that plays out in the background. Suffice to say, the message is that there is more to life than wealth.
Eva Green perhaps has the hardest role as Madelaine, a mute woman who had her tongue removed by Native Americans some years previously. Despite this, she still manages to convey a lot about her character despite never being able to utter a word. Eric Cantona is carving out a decent career for himself as an actor, although there are a couple of moments here where it’s not clear if he realised the cameras were on him. Still, he fits in nicely with the grizzled troupe around him.
If there is anything to complain about, it’s that the world itself is not as fully developed as it could have been. The townsfolk are painted in quite broad strokes as being cowardly, but with the exception of a couple of characters there is little else to define them. It’s a minor niggle when looking at the film in context, which is a hugely successful Western that pays tribute to the conventions of the genre whilst carving out its own part of the storytelling potential of the American Frontier.