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‘The Salvation’ ties new elements into classic Western formula

Date: 8/13/2015

A new western and a controversial movie are covered in this film review column.

On DVD and streaming: The Salvation

This movie speaks to the power and influence of a truly American art form: the Western. This film was co-written and directed by a Dane, Kristian Levring, financed by British and Danish producers and shot in South Africa with a part Danish, part English, part American cast.

The film reminded me of the glory days of the “spaghetti Western,” in which European filmmakers reinterpreted the Westerns they had seen as kids.

I’m happy to say that if you’re looking for a good contemporary Western, this one will probably fit the bill. Mads Mikkelsen plays Jon, a former Danish soldier who comes to this country with his brother to start a new life. After seven years of working, he has sent for this wife and child. As they are traveling back to their homestead, they are attacked and his family is killed.

Jon kills the responsible parties and starts a war, as one of the men is the brother of the leader of a gang who is terrorizing the region.

Yes, this is classic Western material with a few twists.

Mikkelsen is perfect as a guy who just wants to start a new life, but is pushed too far and Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays the heck out of his role as the black hat.

Well written and directed, “The Salvation” may not break much new ground, but it does well in presenting familiar Western story elements.

On Blu-Ray: Welcome To New York

Throughout his career director and writer Abel Ferrera has remained an independent voice. Coming up at time in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, Ferrera did not follow the career path of some of his contemporaries by seeking more mainstream projects and acceptance.

He is perhaps best known by general audiences for “The Bad Lieutenant” starring Harvey Keitel. Few films have dealt with a descent into madness as this one did, showing the breakdown of a drug-addled dirty cop.

His latest film is in many ways a textbook definition of an exploitation film. As the basis of his film, Ferrera has taken the story of former International Monetary Fund Manager Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his case of being accused of raping hotel maid.

The phrase that used to describe Warner Brothers films of the 1930s applies here: “torn from the headlines.”

Gerard Depardieu portrays Deveraux, a man who is being groomed to be the next president of France. In New York City on some sort of business trip, he participates in an orgy that carries over to the next morning when he assaults an innocent maid.

He is arrested and his powerful and rich wife Simone (Jacqueline Bisset) flies over to try to clean up the situation. This is apparently not the first time in which Deveraux’s arrogance and sex addiction has caused problems. Because Simone has had plans for her husband – she is just as hungry for power and prestige as he is – she has been willing to overlook his activities.

The subject matter and Ferrera’s blunt approach to presenting it could be controversial enough but the editing of the film to achieve an R rating here in the United States has unleashed a war of words between Ferrera and his distributor IFC.

It’s difficult to write about a film when it is not the actual product of the filmmaker. As it stands, this is a film that will certainly test some viewers.

Deveraux is a completely unapologetic man about his activities, perhaps a true sociopath. He asks for no sympathy and he receives none from the filmmaker.

Ferrera doesn’t include any of the court scenes in the film.

Instead, he focused the last third of the movie on Deveraux outside of the courtroom. Through these scenes, we are supposed to understand what he is and why he does what he does. The answers are not very satisfying and the end of the film seems like it was born in the editing room rather than the script.

This film, like the actual criminal case that inspired it, is sordid, cynical and bleak. We crave a scene to see Deveraux’s comeuppance, but like real life, it doesn’t happen.