There is simply no way that a Mads Mikkelsen western, that also stars the likes of Jonathan Pryce and frickin Eric ‘Kung Fu’ Cantona, could be anything other than spectacular right? Alas dear reader, The Salvation (2014) proves that not only can it be not spectacular, it can be quite awful.
Some promising signs emerge at the very beginning of the film as it proudly flashes its western credentials. Indeed the credits music, title font and text based intro had me a little excited about a good old fashioned modern western. The plot is also classical, yet re-imagined slightly. It is about outsiders creating a new life on the frontier, battling against both the brutal landscape and brutal people that populate it. The outsider aspect is exacerbated by the fact that those finding their way are foreigners, namely former Danish soldier brothers played by Mikkelsen and Mikael Persbrandt. Finally, after a number of years alone, Mads’ wife and child are coming to join him. When things go awry, the film morphs into revenge mode, which given the man on the rampage, should be all kinds of awesome. Unfortunately though, this film mistakes needless violence and brutality for depth. Or rather, the violence and brutality splashed around is meaningless, which it can’t be in a western.
More than anything else, what sinks the film is the woeful script. The plot is stock standard western beats, beset by a fair amount of silliness, not to mention glaring inconsistencies. The dialogue is shocking too and at times the actors almost seem to be embarrassed to be spouting it. Characters often say similar things that you hear in good westerns. But there is none of the quality or wit that the genre needs to succeed. In addition to the script, the film looks really shoddy too. There is some hideous and totally unnecessary use of effects, to deliver quite simple scenes like a wagon ride. The colouring in this sequence is out of whack too, which I suspect may be the result of average ‘day for night’ shooting, but I could certainly be wrong on that. For much of the film, the quality of the image looks like it could be from the 1950s. Who knows, perhaps that was a deliberate choice on the part of the filmmakers, to homage greats of the genre past? More likely though, it is just poor craftsmanship from those involved.
None of the performers really come out of this film having impressed. Jonathan Pryce gives what is closest to a good turn, as a leering villain. But maybe I just enjoyed that because for me it called to mind his turn in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), one of the most underrated James Bond films. The weakest link though is definitely Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Occasionally he is passable, such as in his occasional appearances in Weeds, but I have never found him to be a particularly charismatic presence or skilled actor. As the main villain in this film, he is very poor, mainly just mugging at the camera without actually acting as such. He is aiming for a not particularly subtle evil honcho caricature, but falls well short of that. A cipher of a good villain.
Verdict: The Salvation fails on basically every measure and I can’t even recommend it to the biggest western or Mikkelsen film. Revenge westerns should never be tiresome, but a very poor script and nondescript everything else, ensures this one certainly is. Schooner of Tooheys New