The Western genre, as a whole, has been monumentally influential to filmmakers all over the world. Directors from the likes of Italy, Germany, and even Japan have given their take on life in the old days of the American West. It is a testament to how much mining you can have with a specific period in history. So that begs the ultimate question: Can the Danish film a Western? We can now answer that pivotal question with the country’s first outing in Kristian Levring’s The Salvation.
Unfortunately Kristian Levring and co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen goes for the basics in telling their Western. We got the husband out for revenge (Mads Mikkelsen), a bloody outlaw (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and a cavalcade of stereotypical members of a Western town. The good thing though is that, despite connecting the dots easily, the story itself is well told and there are more than enough tense moments to keep you on your feet. What’s fortunate is Levring has a solid cast with Mads Mikkelsen & Mikael Persbrandt leading the way as the quiet, strong leads needed for the film. Even if the rest of the cast does not have much to do they at least bring some sort of gravitas to their parts.
So what does Director Kristian Levring and his crew do to make The Salvation stand out? For one thing he wants to make this look as realistic as possible and not be a typical set. There is a lot of grime and dust in these settings with even the costumes having a brownish tint to them. Everything looks incredibly worn out or dying which looks more believable than the slick designs of the films from yesteryear. There is also a constant source of dread throughout the picture as nothing comes across ‘sexy’ or ‘cool’ in the plight Mikkelsen’s character is in. It comes across perfectly well in Kasper Winding’s score as there much more strings used than the typical guitar (although we are not safe from the typical pluck from time to time).
Levring, along with Cinematographer Jens Schlosser, shoots the film to make it not look like a typical Western. There is an emphasis on zooms and tracking shots; not focus on any action but to give us a better feel of the characters or the environment. Mikkelsen’s character looking on as his Brother is dragged by a posse is more convincing as Levring slowly zooms into a close up. There are also some gorgeous landscapes shown but it comes across more how isolated everyone is rather than how John Ford would show the beauty of the West. It comes across very well in the night scenes as they find the perfect lighting to have the moon illuminate what is going on.
If you are a pro when it comes to Westerns then maybe The Salvation will not come across as impressive. The typical plot and stereotypical characters certainly does not do the film any favors. But the craft that goes into it from Kristian Levring puts it a step above from today’s films set in the Old West. It is a bleak film in a lot of ways but the gorgeous cinematography and solid cast makes this fun to watch. So the ultimate question has been answered: The Danish can make a pretty darn good Western when given the chance.