A Review of Kristian Levring’s the Salvation: A Solid but Unsurprising Danish Western

the salvation mads mikkelsen movie review

Film: The Salvation
Director: Kristian Levring
Primary Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Eva Green, Mikael Persbrandt, Douglas Henshall, Johnathan Pryce
US Release Date: 27 February 2015

Oh look, I watched yet another film starring Mads Mikkelsen.

The Salvation
The Salvation is an English-language Danish Western (or perhaps more accurately, a Danish tribute to Westerns). The film showed at Cannes in 2014, but it was only released on a limited basis in the US. Luckily, it is currently available to steam on Amazon.

Jon Jensen (Mikkelsen) and his brother Peter (Persbrandt) are former Danish soldiers who left Denmark to make a new life in the American west 7 years ago. Jon has not seen his wife or his young son since coming to America, and he misses both of them desperately.

Jon’s wife and son (who do not speak any English) soon arrive in the US by train, and the family is reunited. They board a stagecoach and begin their journey back to Jon’s homestead, which is outside the town of Black Creek. Unfortunately for the Jensen’s, they end up sharing their stagecoach with members of a local gang, one of whom is the brother of its leader, Delarue (Morgan).

After getting drunk, Delarue’s brother attempts to sexually assault Jon’s wife right in front of him. Jon attempts to stop him, and is thrown from the stagecoach as a result. He then follows the stagecoach on foot, only to find that both his son and his wife have been murdered. He then kills Delarue’s brother and takes the bodies of his wife and son back home to bury them.

When Delarue learns of his brother’s death, he goes on a violent rampage that threatens to destroy the town of Black Creek. The only way for the people to restore any semblance of order is for them to find the man responsible for the murder and to turn him over to Delarue.

The death of Delarue’s brother also widows his wife Madelaine (Green), who had her tongue cut out by Native Americans when she was a child. Delarue wastes no time before making it clear that she is essentially his prisoner now that her husband is gone. But Madelaine has no interest in staying under his thumb for long.

My Review
Levring’s film tells a familiar revenge story and features a number of the Western genres regular conventions. Even though The Salvation‘s script is not particularly strong or surprising, stylish visuals and solid performances from Mikkelsen and Green help to keep things engaging. Despite a number of hiccups and missed opportunities, The Salvation presents viewers with a (mostly) entertaining Western fairy tale and remains a relatively solid film throughout.
Get The Salvation on Blu-ray. 

The Salvation tells a largely conventional story of revenge, cycles of violence, and a good man wronged. The film features a hero who goes outside of the law to cleanse the moral filth from a rather helpless town. In the fever dream that is the film, violent acts bring about more violent acts, and this cycle can only be stopped once the good man (Jon) has killed everyone who has taken something from him. In The Salvation, the West is no place for families, and it is a place where those who feel entitled to whatever they want seem to thrive. None of this is new, but it still works, more or less.

Levring’s Western many not be incredibly refreshing or inventive, but it is stylish. For the most part, the film is well-shot and it features some stunning images of the landscape (as any good film in the genre should). The use of color in the film is also quite striking; The Salvation‘s distinctive palette combines rich, dark tones with a great deal of yellow, and the results, though lurid, are also quite beautiful. That said, there are a few places in the film where the use of CGI is a bit too much, resulting in a few visuals that feel strange and don’t quite mesh with the film’s more traditionally Western setting and plot.

Some of the film’s well-choreographed action sequences and its depictions of violence also add to its overall stylishness (which is a word apparently). On one level, The Salvation is a film about the consequences of violence, and the flair with which some of its more violent moments are shot and staged might just help viewers to remember this fact.

The film is similarly enhanced by the dark atmosphere that hangs over it. Despite Jon’s eventual triumph over Delarue, The Salvation is not an optimistic film. There is a pessimism and a sense of foreboding running through the work, which contributes to its overall personality. However, this aspect of film is not as well executed as it should have been. The darkness in the film extends below the surface, but just barely. At the end of the day, The Salvation doesn’t carry some of its more superficial elements far enough for them to stand on their own; at the same time, it doesn’t put enough substance behind them for them not to.

As successful as some of the film’s visual choices are, The Salvation‘s greatest strength lies it its performances. Even as it became increasingly clear to me how unsubstantial certain aspects of the film’s story were, Mikkelsen and Green held my attention. There isn’t a remarkable amount of material behind the film’s characters, but Mikkelsen and Green both have so much presence that it almost doesn’t matter. With his chiseled, weathered face, and his ability to come across as equally sympathetic and threatening, Mikkelsen is clearly well-suited to the world of the Western. Even though her character doesn’t speak a word, Green manages to tell an entire story all on her own, and she is by far the most memorable figure in the film.

As I’ve already indicated, many of the problems with Levring’s film are in its script. The Salvation is often predictable and includes more than a few clunky lines, but the real issue is that its story simply does not accomplish enough. In fact, when I noticed that the film was reaching its end, I was taken aback, because it did not feel like nearly enough had happened for that to be the case. The film includes a land-buying subplot that takes up plenty of precious time, but goes almost nowhere and achieves next to nothing of value. Cutting this aspect of the film may have encouraged Levring to pay more attention to his main characters—namely, Jon, Madelaine, and Delarue—to the stakes of their struggle, and to all that transpires between them.

Another weakness in the film’s script is the treatment of its women. Madelaine is a fantastic character, and she does challenge any who would call her powerless or frail, but that is not quite enough to make up for the fact that the only notable women in the film are mute. Jon’s wife may have her tongue, but her inability to speak up for herself or to understand English is presented as something that increases her rapist’s desire for her. This, paired with the fact that Jon’s wife is not the only woman in the film to suffer sexual violence in silence, leaves me feeling incredibly uneasy about Levring’s treatment of women. The fact that Madelaine eventually gets some revenge of her own may help to offset this aspect of the film a bit, but it does not erase it entirely by any means.

Until Next Time 
If you are a fan of Mads Mikkelsen or of Eva Green, then I am sure you will find something to enjoy in Levring’s latest. As always, thank you much for reading. If you have any questions or would like to discuss The Salvation further, just leave a comment below or hit me up on twitter.

If for any reason, you would like to read the other reviews I’ve written for films starring Mads Mikkelsen, here’s one of Flame and Citron, here’s one of Valhalla Rising, and here’s one of After the Wedding

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