The Salvation (2014)
I first dismissed The Salvation (2014) as a foreign western, which is very unfair really. Then I saw the trailer, showing all the “best bits” to me, I was hooked, needing to see it as soon as possible. The nearest that you can get to a standard western today, if you ignore Django Unchained (2012), The Lone Ranger (2013) which are all variations on the classic genre. Here is the closet we are going to get to a dramatic tale in the West today, having more in common with a spaghetti western in terms of the violence minus the humour.
More in the Fordian vein of an immigrant rich country, focusing the in a Danish lead Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) who meets his estranged wife and child arrive after being apart for seven years. Its all happy families, being reunited once more, ok a little awkward but they are happy to be together once more. Taking a stagecoach that would have wished he hadn’t. Ending in the death and rape of his family at the hands of a gang leaders brother. All this takes the ex-soldier back to a life he gave up once he came to America. After tracking down and killing his families killers he wants to just get on with his life. It all happens so fast too.
Tonally we are seeing the best of the classic genre all rolled into one, the 1950’s and spaghetti westerns all mashed together to give us this steely determination we find with Clint Eastwood as finds the men on his list. When news of the killings reach Jon’s town Delarue’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) gang arrive leaving with an ultimatum for the town that I have never come across before, things get Biblical for a while is all I’ll say. Giving into his gangs demands too easily the town is indeed living in fear, paying them for their own security it’s understandable.
I’m reminded of a much older western Riding Shotgun (1954) which has its roots in the communist witch-hunt era. A town living in fear, ready to give up to easily to that emotion instead of listening to reason. More religious in morality however there is still plenty of immorality going around in the form of mayor, land officer and undertaker Keane (Jonathan Pryce). Things get brutal for Jon and his brother Peter (Mikael Persbrandt) who take on the gang themselves when the town give-up of them. Theres a bit of an anti immigrant feeling as they are happy to have their money but not their presence when things get bloody. Could this be mirroring political tensions today in Denmark or America? You could say The Salvation is more representative of young America in the 1800’s trouble around every corner. The weak being taken advantage of by the strong.
All this going on against the classic back-drop of Monument Valley out of the usual season which we recognise the landscape, it’s not the hot summer with the deep orange-red buttes that are as far as the eye can see. They sit within the yellow grass, we aren’t supposed to be overwhelmed by the landscape, more to acknowledge its presence as we see the nightmare unfold for a lone man as he fights for justice.
Whilst fighting for her own freedom is new widow Madelaine (Eva Green) a woman forever silenced after Native American’s brutally attacked her, cutting out her tongue, a supporting actress who has not a single line of dialogue, fighting her own battle amongst all gang men, mostly Delarue and Corsican (Eric Cantona) who want their way with her. Mostly taking it all only able to use gestures to allow the audience to convey her emotions which is quite as task to pull off. Whilst Cantona really does surprises me, the second in command who has taken on another form as a part-time actor. It’s a European cast in an all American genre and it works, its more rooted in fact to allow this drama to take-place.
The classic shoot-out rounds up this sweet and swift film that has packed in a lot of gunfire. It’s cleverly constructed to pit two against a whole gang without falling too much into cliche. Making the build up to this moment worthwhile, having seen one man going through a lot in a short space of time. Jon really does take a beating from all sides, those who were once his allies to his enemies who want their own justice. Ultimately no-one is right or wrong which is an interesting twist on the genre, reflecting how complex and hard life in that era must have been. There’s no hero here really making this film all the more darker which I have not before. It does however lack any lighter moments which would have allowed for character development, instead going head first into revenge and justice, seeking what is right, finding his own path.