DVD Review: The Salvation

Published on August 25th, 2015 in: Current Faves, DVD, DVD/Blu-Ray Reviews, Movie Reviews, Movies, Reviews |

By Less Lee Moore


The Salvation is a Western. It’s not a comedy western, it’s not a horror western, and it’s not a science fiction western: it’s just a Western. It’s about revenge and it stars Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. It’s also outstanding.

Danish director Kristian Levring apparently cites 62 different Western films in The Salvation, which is an impressive feat for a director who didn’t grow up in the United States. However, he did grow up watching Westerns, which makes The Salvation the kind of film that fits beautifully into the canon.

There are no postmodern twists in The Salvation but there are characters broken by the world as well as damaged by some of the terrible people who inhabit it. Some of the reasons behind these fractures are only implied, some we hear about second-hand, and some we see as they happen. Following in the fine tradition of the taciturn heroes and heroines of classic films, The Salvation isn’t overly talky. Words are used sparingly and to wonderful effect, thanks to dialogue co-written by Levring and Anders Thomas Jensen (the upcoming Men & Chicken). In one scene, words help a man without any weapons overcome his captor and escape.

Words are not a luxury of Eva Green’s character Madelaine, also known as The Princess. She is mute because of an attack on her family at the hands of Indians. Green’s ability to convey emotions and back-story without one shred of dialogue is astonishing. As Jon, Mads Mikkelsen also knows how to convey emotions without saying anything. There are scenes in the beginning with his wife Marie in which seven years of love and longing play across his features so powerfully that it feels like a physical force. Later, that face crumples and changes and becomes something else, like Jon himself.

Jon’s nemesis, played with tar-hearted gusto by Jeffery Dean Morgan, is known as De La Rue to most, and Henry to some. That difference between those who use his last name and first name is one that is also not conveyed with words. You don’t need to hear De La Rue’s lust for blood to see it in Morgan’s face, the way he carries himself, and his actions.

An incredible score from Kasper Winding also bolsters The Salvation. There are guitars and mandolins to evoke that Western feel as well as plucked strings when the story gets suspenseful. It’s understated but powerful.

Visually, too, The Salvation is spectacular. DP Jens Schlosser makes the most of the film’s location shoot in South Africa, transforming it into the vistas of the Old West that we know so well. Director Levring also ensured that most of the buildings on the set were not just false fronts; the actors could exist within them as if the town itself existed in real life. This gives The Salvation the weight of reality and history.

There are subtle visual cues in the film that reveal a wealth of information. De La Rue, for example, does wear the black hat of the bad guy, but he also sports a vivid red coat that tells us perhaps he wasn’t always that way. It also indicates that his ego is not insignificant. The real bad guy in The Salvation is probably Mayor Keane, portrayed with sniveling accuracy by Jonathan Pryce, clad in all black and not just because he’s an undertaker.

These visual cues also connect characters together. Although in the beginning of the film, Jon and Madelaine have not yet met, the fact that they both end up wearing clothing in the same shade of green shows us that they have something in common besides just hatred of De La Rue. Like Pacific Rim, just because two characters ride off into the sunset together at the end, it doesn’t mean it’s for romantic reasons.

The Salvation might seem like “just a Western” at first, but it’s the kind of timeless film that should appeal to fans of all genres and begs to be watched over and over again.

The special features on the DVD include charming, lengthy interviews with Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Eva Green, as well as Douglas Henshall (Sheriff Mallick) and screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen. There are also several short behind-the-scenes featurettes that indicate the incredible amount of work that went into making this film, which was a lifelong dream of director Kristian Levring.

The Salvation was released on August 4 from IFC Films.

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