Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Eric Cantona, Mikael Persbrandt, Douglas Henshall, Michael Raymond-James, Jonathan Pryce, Alexander Arnold, Nanna Øland Fabricius, Toke Lars Bjarke, Sean Cameron Michael
Written by: Anders Thomas Jensen, Kristian Levring
Directed by: Kristian Levring
MPAA Rating: R for violence throughout
Running Time: 92
Date: 02/27/2015

The Salvation (2015)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Dusty Vengeance

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In the 1950s, the Western accounted for the majority of movies made in America, and the majority of box office profits. But now, we're lucky if we get one decent Western a year, and even then it's like pulling teeth to get critics and audiences interested. It seems as if the genre is no longer one that's loved, but merely tolerated as an antique part of movie history. I find that most movie buffs and critics really don't know much about the genre, and haven't bothered to watch many of the classic masterpieces therein.

Filmmakers are a different story. I have often spoken to directors who have professed their love of the genre, and their own personal wish to make a Western. They have seen and studied the films by John Ford, Howard Hawks, Anthony Mann, Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci, Sam Peckinpah, Monte Hellman, Budd Boetticher, Nicholas Ray, Samuel Fuller, and Clint Eastwood. I have never met the Danish director Kristian Levring, but I would bet that he is another student of the Western. His movie The Salvation has everything a good Western should have.

In the 1870s, two brothers, Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) and Peter (Mikael Persbrandt) come to America to settle and start fresh. After seven years, Jon is able to send for his loving wife and son. On the stagecoach ride to their new homestead, two drunken bandits throw Jon out of the carriage, and kill the wife and son. Jon quickly tracks down the murders and dispatches them without mercy.

Unfortunately, one of the dead villains was the brother of Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a ruthless land baron who rules the nearby town through fear and intimidation. The dead man's wife, Madelaine (Eva Green), is an equally twisted soul, a woman whose tongue was cut out by Indians and cannot speak, though she sports a scar across her lips.

Delarue threatens the town with financial ruin, and death, if they don't deliver his brother's unknown killer to him. It doesn't take anyone too long to figure out that Jon is the man, and before he can leave town, Delarue's men are closing in on him, leading up to an awesome, wild west shootout.

Director Levring, who was one of the original four creators of the Dogme 95 movement and made the Shakespeare-in-the-desert movie The King Is Alive (2001), has just the right touch for the minimalism of the Western, and its use of landscape. One of the basic themes of the genre is the collision point between the wild, wide-open frontier and the cluttered organization of civilization. Thus, the interior of a stagecoach is only a thin veneer of politeness before violent natures intrude. And the shootout takes place in burnt-out shells of buildings, characters ducking behind jagged, roofless walls jutting into the sky.

Levring's use of light and sound is superb, and classical. The air itself sometimes appears red, from a combination of dust, and perhaps spilled blood. Horse hooves hit hard dirt, boots thunk on wooden floorboards, and spurs jingle-jangle, and it sounds like a musical score. But the main reason it all works is the brilliant casting of Mikkelsen, whose angular, hangdog face is perfect for a Western hero, and Green, whose recent string of powerful, psychopathic female villains is becoming more and more fun by the minute.

The Salvation is pretty darn brutal, really, and the cynicism and bloodshed almost threaten to get in the way of the fun, but behind it all is a genuine love for each and ever piece of the genre. If only that love could be passed on to a few more viewers and critics.

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