2/27/2015

Movie Review: The Salvation (2014)


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The genre may be as American as a slice of hot apple pie, but instead of a scoop of vanilla a la mode, the sun-drenched Hollywood style western is at its best when served with a dish of revenge that's ice cold.

But although former Dogme 95 filmmaker Kristian Levring distills the tried-and-true recipe of the western down to the most basic of ingredients in The Salvation's classically constructed blend of old and new that owes much to High Noon, the end result is anything but ordinary.

Centered around two brothers who emigrate to the United States to build a better life for their loved ones after serving in the Danish War of 1864, the film opens on a heartbreakingly tragic note when the all-too-brief reunion of Mads Mikkelsen's Jon with his newly arrived wife and son (both of whom he hasn't seen in seven years) is cut short by unspeakable violence.


After quickly dispatching the monsters responsible for taking their lives, Jon finds himself forced back into battle when Delarue, the murderer's even more dangerous outlaw brother (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) arrives both out of the blue and out for blood.

Another veteran from another war (this time in the states), as the sheriff explains, Delarue hasn't been the same "good man" since "killing all those Indians unsettled his mind." However, the weak lawman – like all the rest of the frightened townspeople – are only too willing to let John and his brother Peter fend for themselves while giving Delarue's fickle nature and itchy trigger finger free reign to sacrifice anyone in sight and call the shots.

Infusing the admittedly simple premise with layers of surprising complexity, Levring and his talented co-scripter Anders Thomas Jensen draw unexpected western inspiration from Nordic sagas and Viking lore.

Additionally, the old-fashioned period work is timelier than ever given the film's focus on the PTSD that has afflicted both the battle-scarred soldiers as well as those caught in the horrific crossfire of war that find themselves unable to locate peace, like Eva Green's traumatized mute widow.


Having collaborated with powerhouse performer Mads Mikkelsen multiple times over the course of the past twenty years of stunningly diverse and ever-challenging post-Dogme '95 filmmaking, Levring and Jensen know precisely what their own brand of gladiator/brave-heart is capable of bringing to the table.

From casting him opposite an actress of tremendous depth who can convey so much without speaking a single word in the form of Mikkelsen's Casino Royale costar Eva Green to the moving material on the page, the screenwriters provide more than enough fuel to light a four alarm fire within the soul of their unflinchingly tough yet emotionally tender lead.


While the words and actions of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s larger and louder than life villainous Delarue deafen like a shotgun fired at close range, composer Kasper Winding's gorgeous guitar-laden score does more than just fill the space left by the rest of the otherwise soft-spoken cast of characters by managing to reveal in music that which their silence cannot.

Along the way, The Salvation pays homage to the golden age of Hollywood westerns by aligning itself with the structure and symbolism of High Noon, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Shane.

And while it's considerably less showy than both Howard Hawks's allegorical late '50s Noon takedown Rio Bravo and less revisionist than some of the contemporary efforts produced since the end of HBO's groundbreaking series Deadwood, it's no less dynamic in its own understated way.


Granted, of course, by this point we're more than a little familiar with the well-traveled terrain of the All-American genre that's been the stuff of celluloid-spun gold since an actor first fired a bullet directly at the screen in Edwin S. Porter's Great Train Robbery back in 1903.

Nonetheless, perhaps the greatest strength of Levring's straightforward study of a man stripped of everything but his appetite for revenge lies in its sheer commitment to simplicity.

An outsider's tale of an adopted land that might never feel like home, in this IFC feature fresh off the festival circuit, Levring, Jensen and Mikkelsen prove that the most unpredictable man in a fight is the one with nothing left to lose and only his Salvation to gain.  

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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

TV on DVD Review: Batman -- The Second Season: Part One (1966-1967)

Bursting with the pop, color, and flavor of a bubblegum ad on the back page of the same comic that had inspired the series, ABC's smash '60s success Batman was as gleefully campy as it was filled with endless alliteration and overwritten.

Nonetheless as unnaturally choreographed the heavily enunciated tongue-twisting dialogue was, each episode went above and beyond in its salute to semantics by loading each line with more multi-syllabic words than most modern talk radio programs boast today.

And when you couple Batman's love of the English language with the show's obvious passion for play, it's no wonder why it's so easy to get hooked on DC Comics' particular brand of phonics.

This is especially true when it's performed like a near musical call and response by Adam West and Burt Ward, complete with odd mid-sentence pauses and rhythmic give-and-take meant to underline drama, both of which add a percussive "Pow!" to the sing-song dialogue.

Yes, the series did suffer from repetition, both structurally as well as in its tendency to recycle the exact same establishing shots (including its most famous sequence that takes us – "Turbines to Speed" – by Batmobile from the Batcave to City Hall where the same handful of extras mill about in heavily used footage).

However, while the greatest villain Batman ever faced were the budgetary restraints of its own network (which later led to its cancellation while it was still a ratings heavyweight), the show never let this obstacle turn into its Achilles Heel.

To this end, it adopted a visual signature with the same tenacity that it wove the wacky wordplay which was its narrative trademark into each week's two-part episode scripts.

Yet while you could never fail to miss the show’s audible style, Batman's often utilized cinematic technique came across with a refreshing subtlety that was often absent from the rest of the show's jackhammer approach.

Whereas our heroic leads were nearly always held dominantly in the frame – looking stoic, resolved and straight as an arrow – frequently, and only whenever we were in the presence of the show's "audacious adversaries" that were "capable of such capricious crimes," the frame is almost always positioned just barely off-kilter as we size up the room for possible "malevolent mischief."

Admittedly, the first of the three seasons had the best and most creatively freewheeling material as the shows grew increasingly outrageous with time. However, thanks to a bump in budget following the now classic movie (filmed between the first and second season) that also gave Batman its super cool Batboat, they were able to attract some impressive names to the guest villain roster including former Hollywood matinee idols of the '40s and '50s that begin to fill the screen in this set.


And indeed, the star power here is as impactful as the same cartoon-style expressions of comic book of violence that took center stage during fight scenes.

But regardless of cost, the series was always at its best when one of the 1966 film's four main henchmen (Joker, Riddler, Penguin, and Catwoman) cooked up a new scheme to ensnare the heroic alter egos of millionaire Bruce Wayne and his "youthful ward" Dick Grayson.

In a nod to their own success, we see the two at home off duty and discover that when they’re not off fighting crime, they get their kicks in the manner of their audience, sitting back to watch TV's The Green Hornet.

That's just one of many nice in-joke winks at the superhero life that was thrilling on the small screen roughly a decade before the return of Superman to the big screen and the Frank Miller era Dark Knight debut of Michael Keaton's Bruce Wayne nearly 20 years later.

While this is as bright as Tim Burton's 1989 film is dark and played more for comedy than pathos and thrills, you can see the influence of Cesar Romero's Joker and Wayne's dry quips that were carried over in Burton, Keaton and Jack Nicholson's first trip to Gotham City two decades later.

And just like the introduction of Penguin and Catwoman did in Burton's Batman Returns follow-up years later, the villains bring out the worst in one another but the best in our heroic caped crusaders in this (sadly Riddler-free yet happily gorgeously restored) four disc set that delivers fans the first half of Batman's second season.

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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.