THERE ARE melancholy Danes in the blood-drenched western "The Salvation," but they are not as ambivalent as Hamlet when it comes to violent retribution.
Mads Mikkelsen stars as Jon, a former Danish soldier building a ranch on the frontier in 1871 when he develops a serious personal beef with a gunslinger (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who has the entire corrupt territory under his bloody thumb.
"Salvation" has hints of "Once Upon the Time in the West," which may be why Mikkelsen puts you in mind of Charles Bronson - two stoic, masculine performers confident enough to remain impassive in front of the camera for, by today's standards, an eternity. (Mikkelsen has worked with Nicholas Refn, who never saw a take he didn't want to extend.)
Like Bronson, Mikkelsen can hold the camera and the viewer's attention with nothing more than a single animating idea - he has a goal in mind, and that goal is to kill a particular man.
As a wronged rancher, Mikkelsen's target is Morgan's black-hat villain, but there is much to be done in the meantime - a plot about monied interests secretly buying up land where oil still bubbles to the surface. Jonathan Pryce has a role as a sneaky merchant, and Eva Green is a strange woman rendered mute during her days held captive by Indians long since slaughtered.
Genocide and oil - volatile ingredients that remain explosive even today. Throw in a lawman who doubles as a cleric, and you've got the makings of an allegory (with a deeply ironic title).
"The Salvation," though, registers mainly as director Kristian Levring's tribute to westerns of bygone days, with handsome compositions (some really good stuff shot at night), fancy camera movies and a violent finale that makes the rest of this rather languid movie worth waiting for.