The Salvation reminded me of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns. Not, I should hasten to add, because it approaches the mastery of Leone’s films, but rather in the way a foreign filmmaker (director Kristian Levring is Danish) approaches an acutely American genre from a unique perspective.
There are some Leone similarities in how Levring’s screenplay (co-written with Anders Thomas Jensen) hits its genre beats, featuring a character rescued from hanging à la The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and a real estate scam à la Once Upon A Time in the West. As a genre exercise, The Salvation is certainly more than adequate, thanks in large part to a riveting lead performance from Mads Mikkelsen.
But it’s the look of the film that attracted my attention. It’s overtly and unapologetically artificial, often resembling a videogame cut scene with its sound stage sets, CGI effects and blatant colour grading. The shots are consistently well-composed – lots of dramatic low/high-angled camera shots and borderline-expressionistic lighting – but the anti-realism cuts against the prominence of the landscape in the traditional western. Of course, with its Danish hero, this is no traditional western; its synthetic sheen a fitting reflection of the today’s increasingly corporatised United States.