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Sunday Morning Westerns #1: The Salvation (2014)

Hello and welcome to a new series here at TVE. This is Sunday Morning Westerns. Westerns are one of my favorite genres of film, and when I was a child I spent many a Sunday morning with my father or grandfather watching some of the old classics, so I figure this would be the perfect time to introduce a series like this. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up with the posting schedule, but if not, expect at least to see occasional western reviews popping up a couple times a month on Sunday mornings.

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Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Fean Morgan, Mikael Persbrandt
Directors: Kristian Levring
Writer(s): Kristian Levring, Anders Thomas Jensen
Studio: Warner Bros/IFC
Runtime: 92 min
Rated: R

There’s an old divide among western fans that is probably mostly forgotten by modern viewers. A few years back I wrote what I consider to be the review I am the proudest of here, of my all time favorite western, Rio Bravo. Rio Bravo was made as answer to “High Noon” starring Gary Cooper since both Howard Hawks and John Wayne disliked the storyline of the lead hero having to slunk around town asking for help from cowardly townsman for a problem that, according to their more Hemingway like way of looking at things, they should have been able to handle on their own. The Salvation clearly falls on the side of “High Noon”, and there’s nothing wrong with that, as “High Noon” was one of the great westerns of all time, but there’s no mistaking that this is a 2014 western. Neither Gary Cooper nor John Wayne would have ever starred in any feature this bleak, violent, and fundamentally devoid of any faith in the human character.

The movie begins with a scrolling text in the center of the screen, which thankfully I had a big TV and a pause button handy or else I would have had to piece together the background from scratch. Jon (Mads Mikkelsen, who some might remember as Le Chiffre from the 2006 movie Casino Royale) a Danish immigrant, along with his brother Peter both immigrate to America after their term of service was up in the Danish military. They were both veterans of the Second Schleswig War (history nerds feel free to break away to Google at this point…) which began around the time the American Civil War was finally winding down. Dan has a wife and young son back home in Denmark that he and his brother have been working towards bringing over for many years now. This is where we join the story.

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Jon and his family are reunited and board a stage coach to take them to their American home where they will be able to live out a pleasant, peaceful, agrarian life on the rough frontier. Of course, “fate” intervenes and they wind up on the same stage coach as the brother of the local community outlaw “Delarue” and another gang member, both of whom are just fresh out of the penitentiary and more than a little interested in Jon’s attractive young wife. There is no further need for comment on what happens on the carriage ride after this for those who know the structure of “revenge westerns”…

Now the aforementioned brother who runs the entire town and much of the area is played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The only role of significance I could find from him was as The Comedian in The Watchmen). Morgan plays a very effective old school villain. His performance reminded me of “Curly Bill” Brocious from Tombstone. He has a ridiculous purple jacket that alone warranted that he at some point in the movie needed to catch a bullet to the face. That’s before he rounds up the townsfolk and begins killing them indiscriminately as a way to motivate them to turn over Dan and his brother Jon.

Morgan also has a love interest/sister in law (it’s complicated, although it quickly gets uncomplicated with the help of a few pieces of lead)named Madelaine in the movie played by Eva Green (Casino Royale’s Femme Fatale—not sure if that bit of casting her and Mikkelsen has a story behind it or is just coincidental) who’s piercing eyes and tight corseted outfits bring some much needed pleasantness to this parade of gruff looking old grangers. Green is always a welcome addition to any cast, and even though her character is a little underdeveloped her presence is generally enough to carry things over.

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Both Mikkleson and Mikael Persbrandt (Beorn from the Hobbit films), who play the protagonist siblings in this movie have faces and mannerisms that fit perfectly in the world of an old school western. Their immigrant characters reminded me of more humanized versions of Peter Stormare’s cold blooded killer character from “Fargo”. They are just decent people looking to make ends meet, who run in to a corrupt outlaw organization that no one in this little town has the husfa to stand up to. So in a sense this is kind of High Noon revisited, but this is very much a modern western in the sense that the way the action scenes are directed with an emphasis on realistic gunshot effects and whatnot. I believe for those going into this, if you are a fan of movies like Open Range, Three Ten to Yuma (the remake), or Appaloosa, then you will be a fan of this movie as well. Of those three I would rank it as slightly inferior to the first two, and about equal with the third.

I very much enjoyed this movie while it lasted, but I don’t know if it is one I’ll revisit that much in the future. Everything is stripped down to the bare essentials in this movie. The main characters are not exactly talkative which is something I normally look for, and half the time they do speak it’s not even in English (which is fine) and the story in general just kind of rushes on by with very few moments of character reflection or relationship building beyond the bare minimum. Normally when a movie has this big of a gap in the ratio between words spoken and bullets fired I begin to call shenanigans, but, even if it is merely aesthetic, there seems to be a strange sort of depth to this film. This is about as sparse a western as you are likely to fine, but for what is here, it is effective at its job. For sure this is not a feel good western like “Rio Bravo”, it’s even more bleak and existential in its view of humanity than “High Noon” was, but there’s still something worth holding onto here. I’m just not sure exactly what it is. I may have to rewatch this one afterall.

3-5stars

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About William McPherson (382 Articles)
Professional freelance writer, who also writes blogs, reviews, and assorted nonsense at www.vortexeffect.net

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