Directed by Kristian Levring
Opens February 27 at the Landmark Sunshine
The Salvation, like its stoic heroes, wastes no time in getting down to business. A wife and son arrive at the American frontier. Within an hour, they’re dead. Who killed them? Some guys. Why? Because… evil? No motive is given; all that’s important is that the surviving patriarch (Mads Mikkelsen) has a black-and-white case for kicking ass. Which he does, moments later.
What a twisted web revenge weaves, leading to a moment when Kristian Levring’s Western actually seems pointed in an interesting direction. When the brother of the murderer demands his own retribution, it’s before he hears about the murders his kin committed. He’s having the same night as Mikkelsen, loved ones gunned down for no apparent reason. Two men facing off against each other, both with airtight cases for vengeance, is an intriguing way to explore the destructive nature of revenge.
Alas, the film becomes a paint (with blood) by numbers exercise, without a plot beat that hasn’t been seen before or better. Even the characters seem aware of it: in the “annoy the jail guard to get his key” scene, the dialogue is delivered monotonously, as though part of a daily routine and not a risky tactic. The film is too simple to work as drama, too ugly to work as action, and too humorless to be any fun. (Actual tagline: Bad Men Will Bleed.)
Mikkelsen is wasted, his intensity from Hannibal carrying no weight without that show’s moral context. As the first killer’s wife, Eva Green somehow has it worse, only called on to glower and heave her bosom. (No Bechdel pass here: all the film’s women get raped, killed or both; Green doesn’t even get a word of dialogue, her tongue having been cut out by “savages.”)
The Old West setting does at least mean the visuals are a change of pace from other Taken ripoffs. The sets and scenery seem fake or computer-augmented, but on purpose; cinematographer Jens Schlosser hides the degree of manipulation, and more than the script or performances, it’s the lighting that makes the film feel unsettling. He’s the only one who didn’t phone it in.