By Jake Howell

Cannes Review: The Salvation

MadsMikkelsen__2__S_929301mKnown as a member of  Dogme 95, Danish director Kristian Levring (2000’s The King is Alive) returns to the Croisette with out-of-Competition title The Salvation, a film Levring calls a “tribute to the classic American Western.” And it is: Levring’s directorial repeater shoots at all the marks and repeatedly hits the bulls-eye, nailing the tone and tropes of the genre. It’s one of the slickest, most entertaining entries in recent memory.

The tagline for The Salvation: “bad men will bleed.” That’s a fairly basic, epitaph-sounding plot summary for films in the Western canon; here, it summarizes a revenge narrative that pits Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) against a posse of villains who are terrorizing the fictional town of Black Creek. Acting more with his eyes and less with his lines (not a criticism), Mikkelsen as quiet immigrant Jon recalls Viggo Mortensen’s Tom Stall in A History of Violence, David Cronenberg’s 2005 portrayal of a man hoping to move on from his vicious past. As for The Salvation, the Great Dane’s Jon, an ex-soldier, is a gunslinger first and a family man second, and when tragedy befalls his wife and son, so begins the gritty elimination of the men responsible. Word gets to the odious outlaw Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) that Jon has killed his brother, and the scene is set for a showdown that is pitch-perfect from beginning to end.

It isn’t a Western without the West looking its very best, and Levring’s trusted cinematographer Jens Schlosser frames visually stunning images here. The film looks and feels remarkably like Monument Valley, where Black Creek is ostensibly set (with its looming sandstone buttes as the backdrop), yet the production was shot on location in South Africa—an accomplishment that reminds of The Salvation’s dead-on design. But of all the visual elements that make this a outstanding oater, most important is to mention that the color contrast here has been cranked way, way up: Sin City and other graphic novel reference points immediately come to mind, with deep grainy shadows and vivid reds boasting beautifully through the action. Surprisingly, these crimsons rarely come from blood and brains, and in terms of the gun violence there’s less gore than expected (oh, but there’s so many deaths). Rather, the costumes, environments, and lived-in sets are wet with glorious color, and this aesthetic richness works wonderfully for the homage pastiche Levring is going for.

Levring and his co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen (who won an Oscar in 1999 for his short film Valgaften) make no bones about their revenge narrative. There’s a very minor subplot of the West’s history with oil and how that affects man’s inner greed, but it’s woven around 100 minutes of Winchester headshots, stagecoaches, and thousand-yard stares. This is an unpretentious, straight-up blast of frontier fighting, and while I wasn’t able to discern a bonafide Wilhelm scream, The Salvation does, of course, come complete with the requisite Searchers shot. Yeah, this film rocks.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon