Let’s take a look at a gritty and bloody Danish western.
The Salvation is a revenge-focused western from our friends over in Denmark. Danish films have really made a splash in recent years (seriously, give them a look). This one is interesting because it takes such an American genre and gives us a story through an outsider’s eyes.
We follow Jon Jensen (played be the always great Mads Mikkelsen), who with his brother Peter travelled to America after a war in their home country. For seven years, the two work to gain a foothold in their new home. Jon’s wife and son travel to be with him, and this is where the story begins. On the carriage ride, two drunks are slotted with the family (sans Peter who is staying in the town that night). As the two men get drunker they get more aggressive. The situation escalates in a gut-wrenching sequence that leaves Jon’s son murdered and his wife raped and murdered. Jon executes the men quickly, but this is little recompense for the crime.
We discover the town is beholden to Henry Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and one of the murderers was his brother. Delarue executes three townsfolk, and will continue to extort the town until his brother’s killer is found. The townsfolk turn on Jon, and this sets off a violent chain of events that is brutal as it is inevitable.
The entire cast does a great job—even the small roles are well done. Madeleine (Eva Green) suffers at the hands of Delarue even though she is his sister-in-law. Women are brutalized here, and the violence towards them rings as a harsh condemnation of the inhumanity of the old west. There are no laws here—and this world only seems to respond to violence.
On a technical level, the film looks great. The sets, sound, and shots are all strong. Everything about the film is well made, but it didn’t resonate with me as much as I had hoped. There isn’t much different here from Unforgiven or The Proposition. The Western genre has been kind of stuck in the same gear for too long. While The Salvation adds a nice new coat of having this be through an outsider’s eyes, but this is more of a feature than a thorough change.
It is odd to appreciate everything about a film on the one hand, but not really feel much about it, either. I think I am in the minority here, and those wanting a to see a well-made Western will be set here. The violence is visceral, and the level of brutality does make this something we wouldn’t see in Hollywood. For fans of the genre, this one will be worth a watch.