Sweet fancy cheekbones, what even is this movie?
First, a literal, factual answer to my rhetorical question: It’s a Western where Mads Mikkelsen is this Danish dude named Jon living in the American West whose wife and young son get killed by the brother of local Generic Western Baddie Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Jon kills the brother. Delarue vows revenge. Generic Western Shit happens. Eva Green plays the widow of the dead brother, who’s been mute since Indians cut out her tongue when she was a child. Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt plays Jon’s brother. Jonathan Pryce pops up as the backbone-less mayor of the small town Delarue’s been terrorizing. There’s a half-baked subplot about oil and a lot of off-screen rape.
Now, what The Salvation really is: It’s a goddamned waste of good actors. Director Kristian Levring, who co-wrote the script with Anders Thomas Jensen (the Oscar-winning In a Better World, The Duchess) seems to be operating on the assumption that you can have Mads Mikkelsen stare at a wall for 90 minutes, and it would be intense enough to carry a movie. Before seeing The Salvation, I’d have agreed with that. But not now. Aside from the first burst of violence that gets Jon into all his trouble, he does nothing until a good hour in, and it is infuriating.
The low-key action, plus the aforementioned oil subplot (“LOOK, LOOK, WE CAN BE LIKE THERE WILL BE BLOOD.”), makes me think Levring and Jensen were going for a contemplative, character piece-type Western. I have nothing against that in theory—I want to see Mads Mikkelsen fucking wail on a group of outlaws John Wick-style, but if a movie wants to go a different route, I respect that. Revisionist that genre up.
But The Salvation doesn’t pull it off. It’s dull. It’s literally, if not metaphorically, bloodless. The characters are cookie cutter. The only two actors who are really allowed to shine are Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Eva Green, who both get the most potentially interesting roles, he as the snarling baddie, she as the enigmatic ~lady of mystery~. Green’s Madelaine isn’t particularly well fleshed-out in the script—because she has no lines, sure, but also because The Salvation isn’t particularly savvy on the subtle character development front—but all that does is leave Green room to bring her A+ face game. Seriously. Her expressions. She says so much with literally no words. Between this and 300: Rise of an Empire, she continues to be the best part of shitty movies, and I love her for it.
Basically, what this all boils down to is that I want the sequel to The Salvation, not The Salvation itself. I want a movie of Eva Green being Eva Green-y, and Mads Mikkelsen being a badass American Western action hero who’s gotten all his broodines out of his system, and they ride around on horses and kick heads.