"We've been hoping, praying, for someone like you to come along and save us from our misery."
There’s no doubt that westerns are making a comeback. They may not be as numerous as they were in the days of John Ford, but they have gained a lot in respect and admiration as well as the fact that they attract big budget directors. This year we have two upcoming western revenge flicks that look sensational from Tarantino and the director of Birdman (I still can’t remember how to spell his name). But until then we have another that is sensational. I know because I’ve just seen it.
As an ex Danish soldier lays waste to the criminals who murdered his family he finds himself thrown in at the deep end as one of those criminals was the brother of a sadistic gang leader who is hell bent on hunting him down.
You may think it impossible to add to a genre and motivation that go together so often, revenge in the old west, I mean you do actually have to ask if anyone ever did anything other than kill each other for some deep rooted wrongdoing. But the Salvation is able to do just that, paying homages and drawing inspiration from the best such as Sergio Leone and the Treasure of Sierra Madre. There’s definitely a shifty atmosphere to say the least, there’s treachery and paranoia, also subtly reflected by the start of an immigration fear that of course, still haunts some parts of the world today.
But never fear, it’s not all about remembering the films your granddad watched and subtle social commentary, there’s a plenty of violence and action to go around. What we really see here is a traditional Spaghetti Western but set in what one might call a more accurate portrayal of 19th century America. There’s diversity and not everyone looks like they walked out of a John Ford movie, but there’s plenty to indicate that their morals, their actions and their influences all come from the same place. There’s a definite consciousness of its own genus and it’s not afraid for the audience to notice it, the effect it creates only throws you further into this world that is crafted here.
Though there’s plenty of style on show it never crowds the picture. It acts merely as a backdrop for the excellent characters and events to play out their bloody course. The cast do a fantastic job to make sure that the cinematography doesn’t become the main character. Max Mikkelsen captures that old Eastwood lone hero trope very well, perhaps at times a bit more emotional rawness is needed in his character development, but for the most part the stone cold killer tone suits the rest of the film and is acted out expertly. It turns him into a resourceful protagonist who isn’t shy of magnetism where necessary.
Jeffrey Dean organ also gives a wonderfully gravelly performance reminiscent of Jeff Bridges in True Grit that offers a brilliant outlaw character with the perfect look to match. Eva Green offers us an interesting character that once again is excellently portrayed, but sadly she doesn’t get nearly enough time to stretch the character or her own talent out a lot.
It also peaked my curiosity for the most part. It may sag slightly in terms of pace and development during its second half, but more that makes up for it with an astonishing finale that involves a gruesome and imaginative showdown. Maybe a tad predictable in its structure and outline but when you’re paying homage to the best westerns surely that’s forgivable. Possibly, but one also has to remember that there is a point where a filmmaker can stop dedicating his film to something else and just go completely original, and the question of whether The Salvation should have abandoned its tributes at the halfway mark, with plot and character set up, to tell a less predictable and more original story.
But nonetheless this western revenge tale is full of stunning cinematography that provides a backdrop for the inventive events, believable characters and all wrapped up in a blood stained bow.