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I've been a house painter, dishwasher, broiler cook, private detective, military intelligence analyst, and I spent nearly 40 years as a reporter covering crime, 26 of them for the San Francisco Chronicle. These days I write science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime fiction, and I blog about books, films and crimes that don't receive sufficient attention from the mainstream media. I would like to be Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett or George V. Higgins, but all of them are dead so I'll just stick with what I am already doing. . .

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Better Distribution and Marketing Would Have Saved "The Salvation"

Zentropa Entertainment
(Director: Kristian Levring)

Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jonathan Pryce.

Jon Jensen (Mads Mikkelsen) and his brother, Peter, (Mikael Persbrandt) are Danish soldiers who have immigrated to the West of the 1870s after the disastrous second Schleswig war, a struggle that ended with the Danish duchies of Schleswig and Holstein in German hands. 

War-weary after years of combat, the two men want only to be left alone to adapt to their new land. Unfortunately, the violence and corruption of the Old West offers hostile soil for the seeds of a new life.

Having built a home and farm on the dusty American wasteland, Mads sends for his wife and young son to join him.The reunion is brief and unhappy: a pair of drunken outlaws commandeer the stagecoach carrying them to their new home, murder the boy and rape and kill the wife. 

Mads, takes his revenge -- which puts him in the crosshairs of Henry Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a vicious and sadistic gunman who works for a shadowy oil combine that is trying to force out the settlers so it can seize the land for its wells.

Revenge follows revenge and Mads ends up in a showdown with the gunman, his entire murderous crew and Madelaine (Eva Green), the wife of the gunman who originally raped and killed Mikkelsen's wife.

The film is definitely a revisionist yarn with a noir twist. The capitalists who are the behind-the-scenes villains get off scot free, the townspeople in the rickety ghost town are cowards who spurn Mikkelsen and turn him over the gunman, even though they know his death will surely follow. The local sheriff, a preacher, is spineless; the town's mayor is a crook on the payroll of the oil tycoons. The only possible justice for Mikkelson is at gunpoint, and Mads, burning with cold rage, is ready, willing and able to be its instrument.

Part "Unforgiven," part "High Noon," part "Punisher," "The Salvation" is so hard-boiled you could slice it into potato salad. The film was made in South Africa but it's vast emptiness serves perfectly as a substitute for the America of the late 19th Century. You can seem to smell the dust and gunpowder, and almost feel the heat shimmering off the bubbling tar pools the capitalists covet. 

The cast is uniformly strong. Mikkelsen is perfect as a mild fellow whose life has been destroyed by evil men and who is intent on making all of them pay for it and Eva Green seethes with the emotion of a woman who has gone from being one type of prisoner to another.

Green's performance is particularly good, considering she does not utter a single word during the film: her character, Madelaine, was captured by Indians years earlier and had her tongue cut out by her captors. She was "rescued" by the gunman's rapist brother, a swinish brute with all the personality of a rattlesnake, and is taken over by the gunman after her "husband's" death. Delarue makes it clear he has secretly coveted her for years.

Eva Green
Madelaine's contempt for her husband, her hatred for his usurper brother and her suspicion of virtually everybody else in the film is made manifest despite her lack of speaking lines. She uses her eyes with remarkable subtlety, 

switching from a haughty glare to cunning shrewdness to surprising tenderness with a facility that lets the viewer know what is going on in her head at all times. 

If there is a weakness in the casting, it lies in having Morgan play the gunman. He turns in his best Powers Boothe imitation, but accept no substitutes: if you've seen Boothe as Cy Tolliver in "Deadwood," Curly Bill Brocius in "Tombstone" or Senator Roark in either of the Sin City films, you'll quickly realize his cocky, amoral arrogance would make the character Morgan plays much better.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan
This little bloodletter deserves a better fate than it got at the hands of its distributors. It was hardly in theaters long enough to notice and grossed only $5,000 in its opening, according to IMdB. With that pathetic a showing at the cashier's booth, needless to say, its debut week was also its closer. 

The producers didn't do much better with video distribution: it took months for the DVD and digital download to make their way to video release. 

This is a shame; The Salvation compares favorably to a lot of revisionist Westerns that have been released in recent years. It's frankly a hell of a lot better than films like Dawn Rider or Blackthorn.

The low def version is available for rental through Amazon for $3.99 or can be purchased from Hulu. I recommend it. Good westerns are hard to find and this one is definitely worth a look.

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