The Salvation is the latest in a long line of western revenge thrillers, and if you've seen two or three films in that subgenre, you'll know exactly how this story is going to play out from the first two minutes. But while that predictability can often lead to a boring, disengaged viewing experience, this movie is elevated by strong performances from its lead actors. It's about as straightforward a genre piece as you'll ever find, and at a quick 92 minutes, it doesn't waste any time getting where it needs to go.
Director: Kristian Levring
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffery Dean Morgan, Eva Green
Hannibal star Mads Mikkelsen plays Jon, a Danish former soldier who's packed up and moved to the American frontier to live a quiet life. He hasn't seen his wife and son in seven years, and after a happy reunion, they hop on a stagecoach to head home. But two cowboys join them on the ride; one of them (Michael Raymond-James from Terriers) just got out of prison and takes a fancy to Jon's pretty blonde wife. Tension kicks in immediately and when guns are drawn, it basically turns into Straw Dogs in a stagecoach until things turn bloody. The cowboys are gunned down, but - as tends to happen in these movies - one of them was the brother of a bad guy (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who has the small town in an iron grip. Now he's out for revenge, and the movie essentially turns Mikkelsen from a quiet man into the John Wick of the Old West as he blasts his way through town trying to settle the score.
Eva Green plays the beautiful widow of the slain cowboy, and she acts almost entirely with her eyes in this film: since her character's tongue was removed by Native Americans, she didn't have many other options. She's like a wounded, cornered animal here, sick of being mistreated and driven to get her own revenge. (In case you haven't recognized the pattern yet, this movie has a lot of revenge in it.)
There are a few other plot details that I'll let you discover on your own, but be prepared for a bloodbath. This movie holds nothing back, and while its violence may veer toward preposterous at times, it also serves as a reminder of how lawless and terrible life was in those days. The score is full of slow echo-y guitar and tight drums, while the South African locations provided a different vibe than the locales of the classic westerns this movie so obviously adores. Mikkelsen and Green are standouts while Morgan seems to be doing his best "Gene Hackman in Unforgiven" impression, and Jonathan Pryce shows up as the gutless town mayor who's in over his head.
Too often The Salvation simply feels like a copy of the movies that have come before it, but the economic camerawork, speedy runtime, and impressive acting make it worth a watch for western fans. Oh, and did I mention the revenge? There's so much revenge.