I will give you two hours to find the man who did this or you bring me two people to kill!
In a recent review I mentioned that one type of film that you don’t see often enough these days is a western, so I decided to try and find one to review, and when I saw that there was one with Mads Mikkelsen in it I was sold. Those of you who read my reviews for The Hunt or Valhalla Rising know that I am a big fan of Mikkelsen and I near enough literally, well, nowhere near literally, jumped at the chance to watch this.
My only reservation with watching this was the supporting cast. I don’t enjoy watching any of the rest of the cast and I can only think of one role between them that I have enjoyed (Morgan as The Comedian in “Watchmen”) but other than that, I was largely unmoved, but it wasn’t only that. Westerns that are made these days tend to be terrible, and whilst the remake of “True Grit” was enjoyable, “A Million Ways to Die in the West” and The Proposition were bad for all sorts of reasons.
Even then, I decided to give it a chance.
Jon (Mikkelson) is living in America following Denmark’s war with Germany in the mid 1800s, and he greets his wife and son off of the train. As they board their horse drawn carriage to go home, two men force their way on and as the journey progresses, they become more and more aggressive towards the family, eventually kicking Jon out (literally). When he eventually catches up, Jon discovers his family have been slain and he subsequently kills the two men.
As he buries his family, Delarue (Morgan) receives the news that his brother (one of the two men) has been killed and he continually threatens the townsfolk with death unless the man responsible is found. Jon is soon captured by the local sheriff after selling his house and is then released to Delarue and his men.
Whilst being tortured, Jon is suddenly rescued by his brother (Persbrandt) and the two set out to end the tyranny of the group once and for all, all whilst uncovering a conspiracy to sell off the town for considerably cheaper rates so that the oil pits nearby can be used without opposition.
So, is it better than The Proposition?
Yes, it is, but I’m going to start this by talking about the negatives and first of all, about something I hate in cinema and that is completely pointless characters. Eva Green plays Madelaine, a mute woman that is seemingly incapable of feeling or displaying any emotion whatsoever (then again, that could be Green’s exceptionally poor acting skills), but the character adds precisely nothing to the film. I didn’t start noticing this until a few years ago when there was a scene in The Big Bang Theory where one of the characters points out that in the film “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” that you can take Indiana Jones out of the film and the plot is still largely the same, if not completely unaffected.
Below is the scene from The Big Bang Theory that explains it….
The reason I bring this up is because Green’s character has precisely zero outcome in the plot, she is a completely irrelevant character and for the life of me I can’t think of a single reason why she is in this film. Being mute she doesn’t contribute to the script and you could take her out of the film altogether and nothing would change. The exact same events would happen in the exact same order, she doesn’t have any influence on the plot at all.
It’s not even as if Green’s performance is any good. She is her usually terrible self. Her character gets raped and yet her face is completely devoid of emotion. It’s impossible to feel sorry for her because of this because if she doesn’t appear to be upset about being raped, how can we feel sorry for her?
Secondly, I hate when someone is given star billing when again, they barely contribute to the film. This film has Eric Cantona in it, the former Manchester United striker, and he is in it for a fair old chunk, not just the odd scene here and there, and yet he only says four lines in the entire film. It’s not even as if his character is actually a decent character, he’s just there as part of the gang and that’s pretty much as far as the character development goes. Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing wrong with Cantona’s portrayal of the character, but it was a very unimportant role and yet he still gets billed as one of the main stars. Look at the poster, his name comes third, even before the main antagonist.
Jon doesn’t say a lot throughout the movie but even giving him a few lines more would have made things a lot less tedious in some places. For example, when the eventual rapists are asking his wife questions, Jon doesn’t let them know at any point that she doesn’t speak or understand English. He just lets them constantly ask questions that he knows she won’t be able to answer, and this is long before they turn antagonistic towards the family.
I really don’t care for how careless the filmmakers were with such basic errors. When Jon is mourning his family and his brother walks in, the dead wife is still clearly breathing in and out, and even though on isn’t saying anything at the time, the camera stays on him and the apparently dead wife. The scar on Madelaine’s upper lip also keeps disappearing in many scenes and there are many more examples of this. It’s just careless in it’s approach to making sure that there aren’t such obvious errors on screen.
But anyway, enough of the things I didn’t like and onto the positives.
Firstly, this film is actually very nicely put together. I’ll start with the setting and the gorgeousness of the environment. The location manager did a stunning job to find such a wonderful and seemingly untouched bit of scenery to film in. The location feels almost like another character in the film and you are constantly drawn in by the open world feel to the movie. Almost every scene set outdoors has a vast expanse in the background and it’s hard to not admire the scenery, almost in a Lord of the Rings fashion.
During the film I was thinking to myself that this is very similar in many ways to the computer game “Red Dead Redemption” and it uses the sweeping and seemingly never ending landscapes to a similar degree, almost making the film seem a lot bigger in terms of scope than it actually is, and I will never knock a film for using sweeping views of the surrounding area.
It isn’t just the setting that makes the film feel a lot more open though. The soundtrack works exceptionally well and rather than having it blasting out furiously through the speakers, the music is used in a very subtle and thought out manner. It doesn’t try to trick you into feeling tense when there is nothing on the screen that warrants it. You don’t get that often enough in films and the best example I can think of is when he finds the carriage that was holding his family and sees the men that killed them, the music eases you into the situation and makes it feel like something is about to happen, whilst also still allowing to you to hear the minor sound details.
Mikkelsen is again fantastic, he commands the screen with an amazing presence and although his facial expression might change as often as Eva Green’s does, the difference is that you can read his emotions and what he’s feeling so easily. Mads will never be accused of over-acting and will more often than not be portrayed as the dark and moody guy, but it works well with him as he is one of the few actors that can make you feel the sense of their emotions, even when they’re not portraying them themselves.
Finally, the film borrows quite well from several other films in terms of scenes, often copying it completely, and whilst this would normally annoy me, it’s done very well in a scene when Peter appears to accept that he is going to be stuck in a prison cell before he starts taunting the only police officer nearby. The police officer takes the bait and moves to hit Peter, only for it to backfire and having his keys stolen. Imagine a mid 1800s version of the scene from “The Dark Knight” when the Joker asks the cop if he would like to know which of his friends were cowards in order to get him close enough to secure him as a hostage.
Whilst it has some fundamental flaws, it is still worth a watch.
There’s not really a lot else to say really.