Perhaps inspired by director Sergio Leone's top-drawer spaghetti westerns, director Kristian Levring serves up a revenge saga in which forlorn western landscapes provide a backdrop for the savage brutality that's brought to bear on a town full of innocent homesteaders.
Mads Mikkelsen plays Jon, a Danish immigrant whose newly arrived wife and young son are viciously murdered in what amounts to the film's prologue. Jon's wife, of course, is also raped, sexual violation being an indispensable element in any vigorous big-screen revenge saga.
Instead of pursuing the agrarian life he sought in the New World, Jon finds himself engaged in a very American activity -- at least as far as movies are concerned: He must pursue personal justice in the face of rampant lawlessness.
This battle puts him at odds with the town's merciless enforcer, a man named Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Delaure has his own revenge agenda: Early on, Jon kills Delarue's brother, one of the outlaws who destroyed Jon's family.
Not surprisingly, the thoroughly cowed townsfolk refuse to stand up against Delarue.
The local undertaker (Jonathan Pryce) is also the mayor, a self-interested man who's willing to sacrifice his neighbors for what he deems the greater good.
The local pastor (Douglas Henshall) doubles as the town's sheriff. Like Pryce's Keane, he's a man of dubious morality.
Eva Green portrays a woman whose face has been scarred when she was captured by Indians, who also ripped out her tongue. She was married to Delarue's brother, but that doesn't stop Delarue from pushing her into his bed.
With a major assist from his grizzled-looking cast -- particularly the stony faced Mikkelsen -- Levring creates a Western in which the frontier exemplifies lawlessness and exploitation, subject only to the raw justice of the gun.
Perhaps to add a bit of additional spin, oil becomes the demon substance behind much of the movie's violence. Capitalist greed adds a bit of spice to the movie's violent stew.
The Salvation stirs up primal lusts, dishes out brute behavior and tries to be as stoic as possible while doing it. Levring seems too devoted to genre tropes to transcend them, but he knows his way around a drama that -- at root -- is all about vengeance through bloodshed. Be prepared to get splashed.