RELEASE DATE: 06/05/2015
RUN TIME: 1HR 32MIN
Set in the 1870s, the film follows Jon (Mad Mikkelsen) who, after emigrating with his brother Peter (Mikael Persbrandt) from Denmark to the American West, is reunited with his wife and son. Within hours though, they are kidnapped and brutally murdered in a stagecoach fight, and Jon exacts his revenge upon the murderers. Unbeknownst to him, one of the men is the brother of Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a violent gang leader who hunts down Jon for revenge. Betrayed by his fellow townsfolk, Jon is forced to fight for his life and exact even bloodier revenge.
Levring has turned in an extremely handsome film, executed with great skill. It might be a brisk hour-and-a-half, but the film still manages to capture the kind of psychological magic reminiscent of the best Westerns, allowing the faces of the characters and the arid landscape speak rather than dialogue at the best of times. It’s a strange hybrid of voices, deep American accents combined with splashes of Danish, but that strangeness helps to make the film even more distinct. Levring’s screenplay, co-written with Anders Thomas Jensen, sets up a powerful conceit with an arresting and harrowing opening sequence, but as Jon and Delaue begin their vicious cat-and-mouse game, the narrative starts to unravel, spinning from moment to moment without any sturdy structure to hold it. Because of this, it does lose a lot of its focus and power in its final act. It looks striking, with some impressive work from cinematographer Jens Schlosser, but it seems to have been colour-graded to within an inch of its life, robbing the photography of any lushness or colour. It might be an artistically exciting choice, but it eventually becomes far too distracting.
Perhaps this is what brings ‘The Salvation’ down in the end – everything seems to be pushing for an artistic end, but without a clarity and focus to make the film an emotionally satisfying one. It ends up being a work of style over substance, but the style is at times so extreme that it becomes overwhelming. Thankfully, it has Mads Mikkelsen to hold it together. Mikkelsen is easily one of the finest actors in the world, and even with its shortcomings, his presence makes ‘The Salvation’ worth the watch. This is an actor who doesn’t need any words to say volumes and volumes. The same can be said of Eva Green as Madelaine, the abused widow of the man who murdered Jon’s family. She’s criminally underused in the film, but (as she has a tendency to do in any film she is in) she arrests the screen without ever saying a word.
‘The Salvation’ doesn’t offer the kind of fresh perspective one would hope with a Danish team behind it.
In the end, ‘The Salvation’ doesn’t offer the kind of fresh perspective one would hope with a Danish team behind it. What you end up with is a visually exciting, handsomely executed Qestern that’s enjoyable while it lasts, but doesn’t leave much of an aftertaste, even if it’s way too much fun watching Mads Mikkeslen shoot his way around the Old West.
PICTURE & SOUND
Madman’s 1080p 2.35:1 Blu-ray transfer does the best job it can with the material. To begin with, the colours and detail are incredibly striking, but as the colour-grading gets more extreme and the image becomes darker, the transfer has to work a lot harder to keep detail clear and consistent. It’s far from a perfect high definition transfer, but it’s hard to work out whether the disc or the film itself is to blame. I suspect it might be the latter. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is a much more enjoyable affair though. The dialogue is central and clear, but most of the film relies on its moody score and gorgeous sound design, which has been captured on this track with great balance and clarity.
The only feature on this disc is the theatrical trailer, but though I’m a sucker for behind-the-scenes material, I didn’t find myself disappointed too much by the absence of any here.