I like Western films. I like the general setting, so The Salvation was an easy watch for me. The problem with this film was that it took from the genre without giving much back. It is a Danish film, based in America and filmed in South Africa, and so it loses some authenticity along the way. Maybe that bias is based on my prior knowledge of the film.
The plot is almost not important. I could briefly describe the premise of this film but all you need to know is guns and revenge. It is 92 minutes short and is action packed from start to finish. The audience barely get a chance to catch their breath. This created a problem for me because the intensity didn't fluctuate enough to make any part of the film stand out. As a short film, it could have afforded 10-15 minutes of quiet build up to emphasise the climax, which I didn't know was happening until it was nearly over. It still felt like it was in its first act when the finale came about, and that could have been easily avoided with better structure.
Above all of that, the acting is good. Mads Mikkelsen keeps you interested as you empathise with him early on and root for him throughout. Eva Green also played a strong character in an otherwise quite forgettable film despite having no lines (spoiler). The sheriff was poorly cast. He seemed young and didn't look right for the role. When you're talking about a sheriff in a Western American town, you think of an older man, broad with a moustache. I understand that this sheriff is meant to appear weak, but the character's position was just not very believable.
I don't know much about the director, Kristian Levring and aside from issues with overall structure, the cinematography was powerful at times. The County Bank (as seen in the image above) is a strong image. A scene where floorboards were being shot and beams of light flew through with each shot was particularly memorable, but not enough to give The Salvation much originality. There was also some really poor CGI in it including oil wells and fire that was so distracting that it would have been better if it was just not there at all.
On the overall, the film is quite forgettable, save for a few things. It will tickle the fancy of any fan of the genre (I did find it enjoyable despite all of this), but won't break any new ground and is probably not very accessible as a drama film.