As a Western shot by a Danish crew in South Africa, The Salvation already has a hodgepodge air about it. The movie never quite overcomes that sense of being assembled from different directions, but—with the help of two charismatic stars—it does conjure up its share of evocative genre moments. The hook is set early, as a terrible act of frontier violence and instant retribution blows apart the world of Danish immigrant Jon (Mads Mikkelsen). Now Jon and his brother Peter (cool customer Mikael Peresbrandt, a Hobbit veteran) are targeted for revenge by a very bad hombre (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) whose henchmen have the usual traits of bad hygiene and lousy marksmanship. There’s also a woman, played by the thankfully ubiquitous Eva Green, who does not speak. A wordless role is no problem for this French actress, who looks as though she might set fire to the entire worthless town with a glance.
The town is actually not worthless, as we might guess when we see the occasional shots of black goo bubbling up from the ground. That the thirst for oil is behind all the atrocities committed in the story was probably appealing to director Kristian Levring (whose 2000 film The King Is Alive was one of the odder offspring of the Dogma movement). Levring certainly doesn’t do much with the Danish-immigrant angle, which is simply folded into the traditional Western storyline and barely referred to again. It’s a stark movie, but easy on the eyes; the costumes, for instance, are so overdressed and brightly colored that they have a comic-book quality. (That’s not actually a complaint.) Levring spends a lot of energy imitating the look of Sergio Leone’s widescreen spaghetti Westerns, a style that gives breadth to these bleak surroundings.
I can’t say why The Salvation exists, exactly, except that Europeans are very fond of this most American movie genre, and periodically get the urge to “do” a Western. This example works cleanly enough, even if it’s hard to locate a fresh take on the material. However, if you think Mikkelsen is a cool actor—are there people who don’t?—rest assured that the onetime Bond villain (Green was his co-star in Casino Royale) and star of TV’s Hannibal is perfectly comfortable in 1870s-era surroundings. His chiseled looks and laconic style were just waiting for a Western to come along, and for that reason alone The Salvation earns a look.
THE SALVATION Opens Fri., March 6 at SIFF Cinema Uptown. Not rated. 100 minutes.