Nordic Noir Goes West (Film Review: “The Salvation”)

Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green reunite in a gripping Danish homage to the Hollywood Western which – built on Revenge – rings both silent and furious.

SnapShot Plot

The Salvation will surprise you for it’s pure synthesis of the classic elements of the Western genre: the sheer melodrama, the clear moral makeup of its characters, the simultaneously stirring and barren power of its landscapes, and the spare use of dialogue reflecting a time and place in which not a lot of chitchat was tolerated. In fact, in one of the most magnetic performances in recent years, Eva Green never utters a single word.

The film opens on Jon Jensen (Mads Mikkelsen) and his brother, Peter (played by Mikael Persbrandt) waiting at a dusty frontier train stop for two long-awaited passengers. Jon’s wife and young son arriving from Denmark after a 7-year separation following the brothers’ emigration to America after fighting for Denmark in the tragic war of 1864. No sooner is Jon reunited with his beautiful wife and the son he barely knows but tragedy strikes, in the most humiliating manner possible. From this unspeakable loss, we quickly understand the lay of the land in these parts, in the person of Henry Delarue (played with gravel-voiced, lethal authority by Jeffrey Dean Morgan,) who makes Michael Corleone look like a choir boy. The one person whose moral compass remains murky (for a number of reasons) is Eva Green’s Madelaine, with her defiant eyes and permanently slashed mouth. She remains a plot mystery until the very end, and during the film it’s unclear where her allegiance lies, if to anyone other than herself.



Parting Shot

The Salvation is easy to appreciate as a strict Morality tale, but it’s also a historical reminder of the rich melting pot of immigrant migrations to this country during the settling of the American West. We hear this in the cacophony of foreign accents and languages, including Danish, throughout the film. On a strictly casting basis, it’s exhilarating to pair Mikkelsen and Green once more, after their superb work in the 2006 remake of the Bond film, Casino Royale, in which their dynamic was quite removed from the one here.

The whole of The Salvation is a beautifully, brutally elongated revenge scenario that exposes the best and the worst of Humanity in the face of abject suffering, fear and grief. What’s amazing is that Danish director, Kristian Levring has so richly captured the essence of the Hollywood Western in a straightforward genre film that is nonetheless delivered through a Danish sensibility. There’s no excess of scenery, dialogue or music, although the movie feels and sounds richly evocative and emotional. It’s definitely a less-is-more, Minimalist style which seems to be saying that the story and the characters are enough to get under your skin without too many cinematic bells and whistles. And it works.

The Salvation is presently streaming on Netflix.


YouTube Trailer:

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