Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Film Review: The Salvation (2015)

The man with nothing to lose is often the most to fear.

In 1842, Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) and Peter (Mikael Persbrandt) are Danish immigrant soldier brothers who have come to America in search of a new life.  Yet when Jon’s wife and child come to join them from Europe they are confronted with a shocking act of hostility from the brother of the sadistic renegade officer Delarue (Jeffrey Morgan Dean) who leads a violent posse in tormenting a local town led by cowardly mayor Keane (Jonathan Pryce).  The violence and revenge then escalates between Jon and Delarue, quickly drawing the townsfolk to believe that the best action is to abandon the town and head further West…

Delarue gained his fearsome reputation through his savagery when slaughtering the native American ‘Indians’.  His brother’s wife Madeleine (Eva Green) had her tongue cut out by them and is left mute, and the trauma from the genocide still lingers over the townsfolk.  The Salvation is set in the uneasy American period between this horror and the more subtle horror of the upcoming Oil rush (the final shot pans back to reveal an oil-well monotonously beginning the pump), where the bloodlust of the battles between ‘Cowboys and Indians’ would be replaced with the brutal greed of the capitalists.  The stage is set then for a classic shoot-out between the heroic courageous outsider and the savage tormentor of the town. 

The Western genre is not about plot but about locations, visuals and character.  The narrative of The Salvation is more brutal than that of any 1940s classic Western, or even of any 1970s revivalist spaghetti-western, due to contemporary desensitization to violence.  The violence against women is particularity uncomfortable, and although apologists would say that that is what it was like in the Wild West and that it’s simply realistic, the level of implied or overt sexual violence compared to lines of dialogue from women is deeply troubling…

I have a theory about the continued fascination with Westerns: as more and more of us live in cities that are getting taller and more underground every year there is a simple joy in watching a film about nature and landscapes.  Yet period dramas and nature documentaries can only engage half the audience, the other half needs guns and machismo to lure them outside (onscreen).  It also helps that deserts are the least likely place for first world metropolitan audiences are to have visited (let alone lived)…

The Salvation will probably be criticised by hardcore fans of Cowboy films, yet as an insight into a turbulent political upheaval between frontier discovery and the upcoming oil economy then the film is an interesting allegory about different forces of power replacing each other.

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