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Arts & Culture

'The Salvation' Serves Up Eye For An Eye Retribution

Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan star in a Danish take on the western revenge story, "The Salvation."
IFC
Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan star in a Danish take on the western revenge story, "The Salvation."

'Hannibal's' Mads Mikkelsen stars in Danish made western

Film Review: "The Salvation"
KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews the Danish made western, "The Salvation."

ANCHOR INTRO: The western is a classically American genre but the Italians tackled it with gusto in the 60s and last year we saw the first Austrian western. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando says this weekend you can enjoy The Salvation, a Danish take on the American standard. The Salvation serves up a no frills western in which there’s a lot of Christian talk but not much Christian charity. CLIP You are a man of god sheriff Malick and I’m sure you’ve heard the words of our lord a tooth for a tooth Yep, this is an Old Testament revenge story but the new twist is a central character who’s a Danish immigrant. Jon is a settler who kills the man who murdered his family. Only now the dead man’s brother is after him, and he’s a nasty piece of work. The Salvation is a richly shot western that places two former soldiers – both having fought for losing sides—on a collision course of retribution. Strong acting and interesting subtext make this a satisfying genre entry. Beth Accomando, KPBS News.

Companion Viewing

"The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" (Italy, 1966)

"The Proposition" (Australia, 2005)

"The Dark Valley" (Austria, 2014)

The western is a classically American genre, but the Italians tackled it with gusto in the 1960s and last year we saw the first Austrian western. This weekend you can enjoy "The Salvation" (opening March 6 at Landmark's Ken Cinema), a Danish take on the American standard.

"The Salvation" serves up a no frills western in which there’s a lot of Christian talk but not much Christian charity. Jon ("Hannibal's" Mads Mikkelsen) is a Danish immigrant who came to the U.S. seven years ago with his brother Peter (Mikael Persbrandt). Both had fought in the German-Danish war of 1864. As the film opens, Jon is eagerly awaiting the arrival of his wife and young son after seven years apart. But the homecoming turns tragic and Jon's wife and son are brutally murdered. Jon takes immediate revenge. But that's just the beginning of this harsh, focused western.

One of the men Jon killed was the brother of Delarue ('Watchman's" Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a ruthless gang leader who bleeds the town of money and keeps the townsfolk cowering in permanent fear. When the sheriff fails to find the brother's killer, Delarue kills three innocent people as punishment.

Delarue confronts the sheriff, "You are a man of God, Sheriff Mallick, and I’m sure you’ve heard the words of our lord, a tooth for a tooth."

Yep, this is an Old Testament revenge story, but the new twist is a central character who’s a Danish immigrant. Jon's vengeful killing stirs Delarue's bloodlust for revenge and a brutal cycle of violence is set in motion. A revenge story derives considerable energy from its villain, and Morgan's Delarue is a nasty piece of work. But Mikkelsen's Jon has a surprisingly steely core. (I have to admit that more than once I thought, "Are these people crazy taking this guy on. I mean he's Hannibal Lecter! Don't you know what he's capable of!") The film places these two former soldiers — both having fought for losing sides of different wars — on a collision course of retribution. Having fought in a war colors each character in a different way, but it seems to make killing an easier choice.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan makes a great villain to root against in "The Salvation."
IFC
Jeffrey Dean Morgan makes a great villain to root against in "The Salvation."

Both Mikkelsen and Morgan choose to keep their rage tightly controlled and never ever resort to chewing up the scenery. But both deliver solid, compelling work. They are nicely complemented by Eva Green's equally steel-willed Madelaine, a mute woman who had been taken by Indians and had her tongue cut out.

Director Kristian Levring endows the film with a richly saturated visual style and an ominous sense of foreboding. He also presents the Old West on the cusp of change. Delarue, as a former soldier using blunt force to keep people in line to get what he wants is set in contrast to the money men who want to put a more polite veneer on their savagery.

"The Salvation" (rated R for violence throughout, and in English and Danish with English subtitles) isn't as strong an entry in the western genre as the Australian film, "The Proposition." But "The Salvation" serves up a trio of focused performances and an interesting subtext to deliver a thoroughly satisfying genre film.

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