Dorothy’s adventures took her far away from Kansas. For director/writer Kristian Levring, he’s ended up closer there than to his Dogme95 roots. One of the early signatories to a movement that imposed limitations to free its art, The Salvation could hardly be further away. Loaded with charismatic one note performances and heavily stylised action, it delivers a brutally efficient thriller let down by the abandonment of a number of good thematic starts.
From all over the world people have flooded to America to make their fortune. The Danes are no different. On the frontier in the 1870s, brothers and ex-soldiers Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) and Peter (Mikael Persbrandt) have made enough of themselves to finally bring Jon’s wife Marie (Nanna Øland Fabricius) and his young son over. Unfortunately, they can’t even make it to their new home before the Wild West claims them, Jon in turn claiming the perpetrators, one of whom happens to be the brother of local villain Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). A swift descent into bloody chaos follows.
Levring’s screenplay, co-written with Anders Thomas Jensen is hardly short of ideas. It’s follow-through that’s lacking. Several interesting themes commence only for the film to abandon them early. The immigrant experience goes out the window quickly, as does any attempt to explore the corporate corruption destroying local communities. The biggest crime is that perpetrated against Eva Green. She’s stuck in a thankless role as mute Madelaine, widow of Delarue’s brother. Little more than a piece of furniture that moves itself, she’s ignored until needed for a couple of plot points near the end.
The Salvation has a trick up its sleeve though. The abandonment of promising beginnings at least makes way for a series of dark revenge killings culminating in a bloody (and fiery) shootout. The opening paves the way for this. After Jon’s family arrive, an increasingly threatening stagecoach ride blossoms into child killing, rape and clinical revenge. From here onwards, old women are shot in the head, law enforcement officers get smacked about, men are strung up from posts and a lot of people die from multiple bullet wounds. The violence is handled with ruthless efficiency.
To complement this, Levring eschews naturalism. This is a western in love with the classic cinematic image of a western rather than the dusty, pallid reality of barren land. The camera glides around encampments frequently rising to look across the surrounding area. Out in the open, it wants nothing more than to project scale. Stepping back, the glide also moves right up to faces watching for any flicker of emotion. This proves challenging with most of the characters wrapped up in narrow yet entertaining clichés. They’re either the silent (Jon and Peter), violent (Delarue) or corrupt (Jonathan Pryce’s local mayor) type.
Still, for all its flaws, The Salvation does succeed in actually thrilling, the minimum expected from a thriller. Just don’t expect much besides a satisfactorily large pile of bodies and it’ll be good fun all around.