The first film in over eight years for director Kristian Levring, The Salvation (2014) was a much-needed outlier on the festival circuit. A rare genre piece in a field of arthouse heavyweights, it served as a timely reminder of cinema as the ultimate medium of pulp. Outside of this context it may not prove itself to be as much of a palette-cleanser, but it’s still an enjoyable, down-and-dirty western. Though it talks loftily of Westward expansion and the pioneer spirit, it is in essence a picture in thrall to the masters of pulp; from the combustible Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone to the unfussy American grit of Walter Hill, no reference point is left unchecked. The Salvation is, like so many of its predecessors, a tale of revenge.
Danish-born Jon (Mads Mikkelsen once again in gruff outsider mode) is new to America and, after settling himself into this Arcadia, he ships over his wife and young son. But it’s not long before tragedy strikes and the pair is murdered by a local gang. Pioneer town politics being what they are, the interests of the gang are uncomfortably entwined with that of the community, and Jon finds himself virtually alone in the face of a vast enemy. When his mission begins, allies soon break the silence and join the push for justice. The kicker for The Salvation is the casting. Levring strikes gold with his fellow countryman Mikkelsen; his Jon is an optimist turned jaded. In tragedy, he finds the beast within and channels it towards the antagonistic force. Throughout, leading man Mikkelsen’s key strength is his sense of control.
After two seasons on NBC’s Hannibal, his reserve – and the horrors beneath it – has helped to create the definitive version of the character; no mean feat when you consider the intimidating lineage he’s following. He brings the same qualities to The Salvation, but the dormant violence becomes a force for good. His Hannibal is the purest vision of inhumanity on television, but in The Salvation, it’s justice. As the mute Madeleine, Eva Green cements her place as the archangel of genre in the 21st century. Much ink has been spilled over the retrograde roots of her roles, but she has become the Old Hollywood ideal for our contemporary cinema. She is our Gilda, Blonde Venus and cat person rolled into one; an RKO contract player catapulted through time. The idiosyncratic casting is capped by former footballer Eric Cantona and Welsh thesp Jonathan Pryce. This is a ragged ensemble assembled with a keen eye for genre chemistry.
Craig Williams | @CraigFilm