THE SALVATION —-it had to happen eventually: a Danish spaghetti western, filmed in South Africa. Joke aside (and there are NO jokes in this movie), this 2014 venture has compelling acting, direction, cinematography, scoring and sound, but it’s so unrelentingly mean that the compact 92 minute survival & revenge saga becomes something to endure rather than enjoy.
In the early 1870s, two Danish immigrant brothers have settled in the West. The wife and child of one arrive to join them, but are cruelly murdered by scurvy criminals. The bereaved husband exacts summary frontier justice, but soon finds one of the plugged thugs was the younger brother of a vicious land baron and gang chieftain who runs the local town of Black Creek (hint: think over name of place before you move there). Torment and vengeance follow.
Many westerns have had a grim tone or mean streak to them at least since the 1950s, but the new breed in recent years has ramped it up gunbelt notches to suit/sate modern violence-inured audiences. Pictures like The Proposition, The Hateful Eight, Brimstone and Bone Tomahawk are well-made, but so damned unpleasant to sit through they redefine “wince”.
What works for this item, directed by Denmark’s Kristian Levring, who co-wrote with Anders Thomas Jensen (In A Better World), is the look the director achieved on the expansive South African locations with cinematographer Jens Schlosser, and a strong cast: Mads Mikkelsen (worth seeing in anything, here as the tragically victimized hero), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (the brutal head villain), Eva Green (alluring and discomfiting mystery woman), Jonathan Pryce (duplicitous swine) and Mikael Persbrandt (of In A Better World, as the hero’s brother). Effective music score from Kasper Winding is another plus, as is the sound effects work, adding extra punch to those hash-settling gunshots.
In the main, it’s arresting actors who keep you watching, even when the action has you wishing “Enough, already!” Rounding out the cast are Eric Cantona, Douglas Henshall and Nanna Øland Fabricius. Made for €10,500,000, it grossed $1,364,000 internationally (just a tiny $44,903 in the States where it only played in 28 theaters). Will have a shelf life as a cult item.