The murdered family. The quiet, but enraged protagonist out for revenge. The damsel in distress. The ill-tempered, tobacco spitting evil villain. The little shootout. The big shootout. The final shootout. Most of us are so familiar with the tropes and cliches of a Western, we could watch the first five minutes of any film in the genre and predict how it ends with ease. The question is: does The Salvation bring anything new whatsoever to the table when it comes to the classic American Western?
Directed by Dogme95 member Kristian Levring, The Salvation immediately introduces us to our action-hero protagonist, Jon (Mads Mikkelsen), a Danish soldier who has returned to America to reunite with his wife (Nanna Fabricius) and son (Toke Lars Bjarke). But upon this happy reunion, Jon’s family is kidnapped by a couple of drunken men carrying big attitudes and even bigger guns. From here, Jon tracks down the men by himself, only to find his family already dead. Jon kills the men, not knowing their relation to local gang leader Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). What happens next can be classified as a Liam Neeson-style “one vs. all” Western revenge thriller.
The one character who is so bizarrely underutilized its almost hilarious is played by Eva Green, as the only thing she gets to do in this film is run away and try not to get raped by the gang members.
The Salvation is a film that is all about paying tribute to, and playing on, the overused tropes of revenge westerns, calling to attention certain films in the canon starring Clint Eastwood. The film also seems to be making a subtle homage to the successful video game “Red Dead Redemption” with its similar aesthetic, feel, and the fact that the lead protagonists share certain mannerisms and the same first name.
As far as the cast is concerned, Mikkelsen does a pretty good job with his character, managing the action hero as minimally cliched as possible. The script criminally underused Jeffrey Dean Morgan, however, and even though he is the villain, he gets absolutely zero chance to really show his stuff. Films like Watchmen prove his worth as an almost charming bad guy and this film missed the mark severely. The one character who is so bizarrely underutilized its almost hilarious is played by Eva Green, as the only thing she gets to do in this film is run away and try not to get raped by the gang members. She literally never speaks a word, as her character is mute.
The Salvation throws together all of the classic western tropes and uses some nice cinematic shots, but offers nothing new to the genre. The film ends quickly and with a whimper. The only high point of the film is the score by Kasper Winding, which feels like it added to the dark, moody atmosphere in a positive way. I don’t doubt the passion behind this film. The actors, at least, seem to care about doing the best they can with what they are given. But there is no excuse for taking all of the painfully dull cliched tropes from a genre and adding nothing new or of value to the discussion. Some filmmakers are still making the western work in rather unique ways. Just look at Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff. It can be done.