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Review: 'The Salvation' is a forgettable but lean throwback B-Western

Mads Mikkelsen turns reluctant avenging angel/hero in a largely European-made look at old America.
The Salvation

Mads Mikkselsen plays a peaceful Denmark-to-Old-American-West transplant who becomIFC Films

‘The Salvation’
Director:
Kristian Levring
Stars: Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

We live in a culture that demands everything be the best kind of whatever thing it is ever. “The Salvation” doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It’s a neo-Western that’s both a throwback to mean, lean B-Westerns and very modern, which is to say both international — with many key roles filled by Europeans and Brits, plus a former Dogme 95 director (“The King is Alive”’s Kristian Levring) — and sometimes horrifically, grotesquely violent in the manner of “The Proposition.” It’s been done before, and that’s not a problem. One enjoys it the way one enjoys a forgettable genre entry that gets most things right, then largely dissolves from the memory.

Indeed, not even Eva Green as a mute, scarred gunslinger is very memorable in “The Salvation.” She’s one of the badasses after our reluctant quasi-hero — Jon (Mads Mikkelsen), a peaceful Danish immigrant who has arrived in the American West before his wife and daughter to make sure things safe for them. When they show up, they’re immediately kidnapped and murdered by bandits. Jon turns into an angel of vengeance, which proves to be a problem: One of the men he killed was the husband of Green’s Madelaine and brother of a fearsome, seriously-mustachioed gang leader Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, whose transformation into ’80s-era Powers Boothe is now complete).

What “The Salvation” doesn’t do enough with is the idea of vengeance only creating a bloody mess. Turns out Jon’s personal quest ties in nicely with something more selfless: saving his newfound town from Delarue, who has bullied everyone from the mayor (Jonathan Pryce) to the sheriff (Douglas Henshell) on down. What it gets right is the brutal efficiency. Heinous acts have a blunt, pitiless force with little time for talk. It still slips in humanity. Mikkelsen excels at characters who disappear inside themselves, but he’s an unusually anguished Charles Bronson-type. Green may not have much chance to ham it up, as has been her wont in the sequels to “300” and “Sin City” but uses that to her advantage, making Madelaine a real, tortured character who would rather be anywhere else. This is still a movie with more barrel shots to the head than you can count on both hands, but it’s more than a killing machine.

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