Cannes has had a good run with westerns this year. Not just Tommy Lee Jones’ quasi-feminist The Homesman, but also the western aspirations of Catch Me Daddy. With The Salvation (2014), we have a much more straight-laced genre flick, a full-on modern spaghetti western from former Dogme director Kristian Levring (who, like Lars von Trier, has clearly rejected it all by now. Maybe it’s a ‘Danish pastry’ western, but the influence from Leone and the fact that’s it’s almost entirely in English mean that hardly registers. Set in 1870s America, Mads Mikkelsen is his typically scraggy self as Jon, a former army recruit who relocates to the US from Denmark after being on the losing side of the Schleswig War.
The Salvation opens as Jon’s wife and son (Nanna Øland Fabricius and Toke Lars Bjarke) arrive to join him for a new life on the frontier, but Jon’s happiness doesn’t last as two thugs make sure his family don’t even survive the stagecoach ride home. As Jon seeks revenge – and, of course, he has the shooting capability of the world’s best sniper – he forces the terror of wicked landowner Delarue on the local townsfolk (brilliantly played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a modern Gian Maria Volonté from A Fistful of Dollars). His evil knows no bounds, brutally murdering four townsfolk in front of the crowd as punishment when it’s revealed his brother was one of the victims of Mikkelsen’s retribution. His motivation aren’t purely vengeance-based, however, and may have something to do with that black stuff in the hills.
Nothing quite competes with the blistering opening scene, but The Salvation’s cast of characters mean it’s never less than a fun watch. A vampy Eva Green is striking as the defaced wife of Delarue’s murdered brother, while Jonathan Pryce is a less-than-scrutable mayor. Eric Cantona might feature prominently in UK ads, but his part is relegated to a couple of lines and standing about shooting the occasional good guy. Mikkelsen, who proves here he’s up to action after mostly sitting throughout Casino Royale (2006), is typically mesmeric, even if he’s rather emotionally aloof through his trials. The bare, generic bones of Levring’s latest does make it seem outdated in comparison with recent western revisions, from 2004’s Open Range to the decent remake of 3:10 to Yuma (2007), which hold far more psychological insight. Still, it’s lusciously shot by cinematographer Jens Schlosser – with South Africa standing in for the American plains – while Kasper Winding’s score has occasional Morricone-style sparks.
The 67th Cannes Film Festival takes place from 14-25 May 2014. For more Cannes coverage, simply follow this link.