The Salvation

| August 4, 2015

I volunteered to review this for one reason: Mads Mikkelsen.  I’ve recently become a huge fan of the actor for his portrayal of Hannibal Lector on the recently cancelled NBC Drama Hannibal.  It’s a smart and dark adaptation of the original stories done in a fresh and disturbing way, and Mikkelsen is amazing in the titular role. 

I was worried I might have difficulty separating his role as Hannibal from his role in this classic-style western, but those fears were put to rest when the film opened and Mikkelson’s character Jon picked up his wife and son from the train station after not seeing them for the 7 years he was trying to survive in the American west.  Tragedy soon strikes the family, ripping them apart hours after their joyful reunion, but I give this movie a ton of credit for not doing a conventional revenge driven western like we’ve seen so many times before.  Director and co-screenwriter Kristian Levring does some very interesting things with the structure of his story, making Jon first and foremost a survivor and not inclined to seek out anything more than he’s due.  He’s still absolutely our hero and protagonist, doing what’s right by his family at every turn, but when his revenge puts him on the hit list of the biggest badest deadliest villain around, he does everything in his power to steer clear of the hate-driven gang leader, Henry Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan; The Watchmen). 

Westerns often live and die by the quality of their villains.  I’ve always liked Jeffrey Dean Morgan, but he consistently plays pretty noble and honorable characters so I didn’t know how it was going to play out with him as the bad guy here.  Turns out, it’s awesome.  Morgan brings Delarue to life with a lot of malice and hatred, but also a distinctively eerie calm, and all the while we completely understand why he’s doing what he’s doing.  Having a villain be so completely rooted in reality, with understandable motivations the audience can empathize with, and still have him be tough as nails and evil makes the Delarue character really something special.

I also want to give a lot of praise to Eva Green’s (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For) portrayal of Madelaine.  I don’t fully understand why, but I love characters who can’t speak or refuse to speak.  Madelaine was attacked by Native Americans when she was a girl.  They butchered her family and cut out her tongue so she can’t speak at all.  She ends up dating Henry’s brother until he’s killed and then Henry takes the opportunity to take care of her in his own sadistic way.  Green has never struck me as the strongest actress, but maybe the key to getting a good performance out of her is make it so she doesn’t have to deliver a single line.  She has an intensity that comes through her eyes like nothing I’ve ever seen.

This is a movie for any fan of the western genre.  It has the familiar aesthetic of sand, blood, and gunpowder, the lawlessness of the old west, the themes of revenge and honor, and a great hero facing off against a great villain.  What more could you want?

Special features on the DVD include interviews with the cast and crew, and a behind the scenes featurette.  Available now on DVD and Blu-ray from IFC Films.

About the Author:

Joe Ketchum Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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