The great Dane Mads Mikkelsen deigns to crack a smile in the revenge western The Salvation, but only in the very earliest going, before his wife and son - just in from the old country, detraining in the sagebrush nowhere of a place called Black Creek - meet a quick, nasty end.

After that, Mikkelsen's Jon, a soldier back in Denmark and a homesteader in the Wild West of the 1870s, does what he has to do: avenge his family's deaths. His brother (Mikael Persbrandt), another taciturn Scandinavian and veteran of his country's war against Germany, is there to fight by his side. But bad men are aiming to get the brothers, notably Col. Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a mustachioed gunslinger with a stockpile of cigarillos and a talent for making the townsfolk quake in their boots whenever he drops by.

Shot on South African landscapes that go a good way toward faking the sienna-hued vistas of the American Southwest, and saluting John Ford's famous doorway shots from The Searchers at least a half-dozen times, The Salvation is severe and bloody stuff.

Director Kristian Levring, a cohort of Lars von Trier, threads biblical allusions into the worn fabric of his tale, with the sheriff (Douglas Henshall) doubling as Black Creek's priest, and the mayor (Jonathan Pryce) running the undertaking business. Eva Green is a watchful miss whose brother-in-law, Delarue, calls her "Princess," as her late husband did. And she can't complain - her tongue was cut out by Indians, and a nasty scar jags across her lips. Composer Kasper Winding throws twangy guitars and lush orchestrations into the mix.

With echoes of The Outlaw Josey Wales and a hundred other oaters, The Salvation isn't breaking new ground, but it brings a certain Nordic hardness to the genre. Glints of irony and wit are evident, too, unless we're supposed take this Delarue villain seriously, in which case I'm not exactly sure what the point is.

The Salvation *** (Out of four stars)

Directed by Kristian Levring. With Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Mikael Persbrandt, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jonathan Pryce. Distributed by

IFC Films.

Running time: 1 hour, 32 mins.

Parent's guide: R (violence, adult themes).

Playing at: Ritz Bourse.EndText