No salvation here; just classic vengeance
Paying tribute to a dozen other classics before it the English/Danish film, The Salvation, still finds its own voice and distinctive style, further fanning the flames of 2015’s Year of the Western.Driven by star Mads “Hannibal” Mikkelsen’s lead presence, and ably supported by a number of welcome familiar faces, The Salvation does not necessarily invest its time in telling a new tale, but still manages to feel surprisingly fresh – possibly thanks to its more international flavour – and offers up a backdrop developed just enough to ensure some measure of distinction. The revenge tale is ultimately somewhat familiar – borrowing from everything from High Plains Drifter to Unforgiven; basically everything Eastwood wrote the book on – and it doesn’t really trade too much in grey areas, dividing its characters into fairly black and white entities, giving the narrative almost a comic book feel. But where the heroes and villains may be pretty clear-cut – even amidst the duplicitous townsfolk – the background machinations add an extra layer of intrigue, with Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s gang leader himself under the control of a bigger force which has darker plans for the town and the people within. Even Eva Green’s scarred femme fatale, has her own cards to play, spinning the fate of these characters into a realm of relative unpredictability.Danish Director Kristian Levring, who has been dabbling in both English and Danish productions for over a decade, strikes out with this piece, taking note of the genre within which he's working – and of the classic films and trademark staples that are a necessary evil for any kind of western revenge thriller – and effects his art efficiently and stylishly. Staying within a limited budget, the evidence is only fleetingly noticeable in one or two shots here and there, with CG-enhanced towns barely capable of being distinguished from the real South African sets built, and day-for-night-style shots often playing into the distinct high-saturation feel of the piece, rather than standing out like sore thumbs. There are several nice setpieces that define the action side of things, as well as some sumptuous broader shots boasting cinematography impressive enough to sometimes make you believe this is actually the Wild West and not the South African plains. Indeed everything about The Salvation is to do with trading in reverent nods to the classic Westerns, and playing out a familiar tale, whilst injecting some measure of distinction, both in style and substance.
Picture QualityThe Salvation hits UK shores courtesy of Warner, who deliver a Region Free Blu-ray which promotes the film with a 1080p/AVC-encoded video presentation framed in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen.
Heavily stylised and digitally over-manipulated, The Salvation’s striking looks take a little getting used to.
Whilst many sequences boast an almost classically Western appearance, it doesn’t take long for the tweaks to come out in this particular feature, as night sequences look almost like those old day-for-night scenes from movies where they couldn’t handle such shots in any other way. Beyond these stylistic choices, however, the presentation itself is pretty damn impressive, lapping up all of the rich textures and fine detail on offer in the precise depiction of the Old West. The colour scheme furthers the rampant stylisation, with heavily over-saturated tones, but some nice natural backgrounds striking out for attention. Black levels are probably affected by the aforementioned day-for-night-esque treatment, and contrast is all over the shop, but overall – despite the stylistic choices – it’s a largely impressive presentation that doesn’t quite plant both feet firmly into demo territory.
The disc’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track provides a wonderful accompaniment to the feature.
Promoting the mixed-language – although still predominantly English – dialogue clearly and coherently across the fronts and centre channels, it’s the effects and score that truly stand out, with the wide open expanse given a sense of true solitary foreboding – particularly when you’re being hunted – and the climactic gunfights brimming with electric punch, as bullets thunder across the soundstage, whipping through your living room, utilising the dynamic capabilities of the surround array, and carrying with them some welcome LFE heft. Rumbling train sounds and thundering horses hooves provide further atmospheric engagement, and the score – as much of a tribute to western classics as the movie itself – offers a nice background setting for the whole affair. Demo-worthy and indeed praiseworthy, this is an impressive effort.
ExtrasThe Salvation boasts little more than a selection of half a dozen mini-featurettes, tackling various elements in the movie with little more than 60 second spurts on the subject.
Blu-ray VerdictWhilst it likely won’t define this year’s entries, The Salvation only further adds to the bevy of promising 2014/2015 Westerns, and becomes yet another one – after Tommy Lee Jones’s recent gem, The Homecoming and Fassbender’s Slow West – which has delivered on that promise. And as the unstoppable buzz surrounding Tarantino’s typically all-star The Hateful Eight still further proves, there is plenty more to come from The Year of the Western.
Distinctive style and clever improvisations largely disguise the limited budget of this engaging little revenge Western, which is fresh enough to definitely warrant a look.
Warner's Region Free UK release boasts strong video and audio, and a scattershot of extras. Fans of the genre, and the genre classics should certainly consider it a worthy rental and maybe even a blind buy; in a year of westerns, The Salvation earns a place on the short-list. Next up on that list: Slow West.
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