The Salvation review

The Salvation

The extent to which you enjoy The Salvation will be rooted in your feelings about westerns in general, such is director Kristin Levring‘s devotion to the trappings and tropes of the genre. So many recognisable elements are on display that the film sometimes feels like a highlights reel.

The story opens with the introduction of a lone gunman hero, played with all the intensity and commitment that we’ve come to expect from Mads Mikkelsen. Jon is an immigrant who has been in America for eight years, and who speaks a mixture of Danish and English. When we first meet him, he’s being joined by his wife and son to set off on a stagecoach trip to their home in Black Creek. Unfortunately, the two men who share the ride turn out to be highly unsavoury types and things go from bad to worse very quickly.

Following an inventively staged and flawlessly shot Mexican standoff, all taking place within the cramped confines of the stagecoach, Jon is thrown out, and the men savagely enact their rage upon his wife and son.

Jon gives chase and when he catches up, Mikkelsen carries off a scene of brutal revenge with a cold, calculated manner that still betrays Jon’s boiling insides.

All of which leads into into a busy but familiar plot that’s all too easy to shrug off. One subplot involves the purchase of the town but why it’s so desirable is obvious from the off to anybody who has seen even a handful of westerns, or gives even a moment’s thought to it being called Black Creek.

So there’s nothing original or surprising here but there is some delight to be taken from the conventions been played out in what is, for the most part, a very well made film.

“For the most part,” as the film’s cinematography, by Jens Schlosser, and the subsequent colour correction has left the images looking a little ugly. Blacks have been replaced with blues and purples, and the colours have manipulated to the point of them becoming a diversion. It’s remarkable to think that Levring was one of the co-signees on the Dogme95 manifesto, with its vow of chastity that declared “optical work and filters are forbidden.”

Aside from the colour palette, the film is incredibly well shot with some exceptional action direction. The climactic shootout in particular uses fluent spatial dynamics to thoroughly gratifying effect. Every move, and every gunshot, reads clearly and we’re kept on the edge of suspense by knowing the layout of every threat and every escape route, even when the characters don’t. It’s the kind of formal excellence in action filmmaking that had me applauding as the final gun shot rang out.

The Salvation is undoubtedly restricted by its commitment to the classic trappings of the western genre, and the handed-down gender politics are particularly unsettling, but Levring, with thanks to Mikkelsen and some excellent action, has nonetheless created a thoroughly entertaining piece of pulp.

The Salvation will be released across Europe as the year goes on but plans for the UK and US are yet to be announced.

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