The Salvation
dir Kristian Levring
scr Anders Thomas Jensen, Kristian Levring
prd Michael Auret, Sisse Graum Jorgensen
with Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Eric Cantona, Jonathan Pryce, Douglas Henshall, Mikael Persbrandt, Nanna Oland Fabricius, Alexander Arnold, Toke Lars Bjarke, Michael Raymond-James, Sean Cameron Michael
release Den 22.May.14, UK Oct.14 lff, US Oct.14 ciff
14/Denmark Zentropa 1h29
The Salvation
The strong, silent type: Cantona and Mikkelsen

green morgan pryce
london film fest
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The Salvation A remarkably fresh take on the Western, this Danish film (shot in South Africa) is packed with believable characters in realistic situations. Director Levring captures the genre's recognisable elements without ever falling back on a simplistic cliche, which makes the events eerily easy to identify with, especially where they involve moral dilemmas.

After working in America for seven years, Jon (Mikkelsen) has finally been able to bring his wife (Fabricius) and 10-year-old son (Bjarke) to live with him in 1871. But on the way home from the train station, they are ambushed by two thugs (Raymond-James and Michael). Jon manages to kill them, but in the process sparks the rage of local heavy Delarue (Morgan), who has the town's mayor-undertaker (Pryce) and sheriff-priest (Henshall) in his back pocket. And as Delarue sets out to get revenge, he has no idea who he's dealing with.

The key fact is that Jon and his brother Peter (Persbrandt) are ex-soldiers who left Denmark after a brutal civil war, turning their backs on violence. But they're certainly able to fight when they need to, and what follows is an escalating series of skirmishes, captures, killings and attacks. The script never pulls any punches; no character is safe here. And each action reveals more about this already barely civilised society, where the possibility of oil has sparked everyone's greed at the expense of law and order.

Mikkelsen is terrific at the centre, a calm presence who would rather not get involved in all of this mess. But he's also a resolutely decent man, pushed not by vengeance but by a sense of justice, restoring balance to a fragile emerging community. He also creates terrific unspoken chemistry with everyone else on-screen. Henshall and Pryce are wonderfully slippery good guys, while Morgan has bullying menace down pat. And Green makes her victimised character into something remarkably forceful.

It's like a blast of fresh air to see a Western that avoids the usual blunt machismo for something much more sophisticated and nuanced. This film actually attempts to explore the way immigrants formed American society from elements of their home cultures, and also how the American Civil War left violent men bruised and dangerous. As a result, it says a lot more about how we live now than we'd probably like to admit.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 13.Oct.14

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