Westerns have been a corner stone of American cinema since the 1950s; after all it’s the perfect medium to portray the harsh history of the wild frontier. From the frilly shirts of Roy Rogers to Clint Eastwood’s ‘man with no name’, they’ve managed to tap into audiences throughout decades. As we all know, westerns have been produced in Italy, Spain and even the UK on one or two occasions, but I never thought I’d ever see a Danish western. The Salvation starring Mads Mikkelsen piqued my interest.
Jon (Mikkelsen) migrated to the United States from Denmark ahead of his family to set up a home for them. When they eventually arrive they are victims to a heinous crime. Jon manages to kill the perpetrators, but unbeknownst to him they were members of a criminal gang lead by the tyrannical Colonel Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). When Delarue discovers his men have been killed, one of them his brother, he sets out to find Jon and exact revenge. What follows is a violent battle between good and evil.
As a fan of westerns, I lament the lack of said genre in cinema these days. Sure we have the odd one here and there 3:10 to Yuma (2007) True Grit (2010) Django Unchained (2012), but it’s a genre that benefits so much from the cinematic format and The Salvation proves this. With its strong influences from Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, cold hearted villains, silent heroes, the wide panoramic views of the desolate landscape, (shot just outside Johannesburg) The Salvation hits all the right notes in terms of style and tone. Mikkelsen’s understated performance as a simple family man turned desperate hero feels convincing and when butted up against Morgan, who clearly revels in the baddie role, makes for an interesting rivalry. The supporting cast is fleshed out with, Jonathan Pryce as the greedy Mayor of Black Creek, Douglas Henshall as the town’s sheriff/priest, even a small part by ex-footballer Eric Cantona doesn’t detract from the performances. Unfortunately Eva Green, suffers as an underdeveloped widow with a past, but when have the women ever been at the forefront in a western.
The direction by Kristian Levring is beautiful, the previously mentioned wide shots, but also his use of the camera nods to classic westerns without feeling tacky or overused. The crab shot tracking heavy clinking boots as they thump across wooden floorboards, evoking an air of mystery and terror is just one of the methods that shows real love for the genre. A key element is always going to be the cinematography and Jens Schlosser does an excellent job with the colour palette, balancing the warm yellows of the sun-scorched days and the cool blue of the moonlit nights. In some areas the pacing felt a little off dragging on a few occasions, but these were few and far between and didn’t take too much away from the enjoyment.
Overall, The Salvation is a western in the truest sense of the word. Everything you could possibly want from the genre is present and combined with perfection to form an exciting rollercoaster ride through the dusty plains and rickety towns. If you’re at all a fan of gunslingers and outlaws I highly recommend viewing and hopefully we’ll see more westerns like this in the future, even if they are from Denmark.