As ever, Mads Mikkelsen dominates in writer-director Kristian Levring’s classy, if brutal, western. It’s another effortlessly charismatic performance from one of the best screen actors of his generation in an admirably lean, horrifying fable of revenge, which unashamedly recalls the finest examples of the genre from John Ford via Leone and Peckinpah through to Eastwood at his darkest.
Mikkelsen plays settler Jon, whose wife and young son have just joined him in the US after several years. The reunion is short-lived, as Jon’s family are murdered before they even get to his home by two bandits recently released from prison. Jon immediately avenges their death, which puts him into conflict with Colonel Delarue (Morgan) and Madalaine (Green), respectively the brother and wife of one of the assailants.
The allusions to Ford are the most obvious and plentiful. Here South Africa ably stands in for Ford’s beloved Monument Valley, and you lose count of the amount of shots framed by doorways after the first 15 minutes. More interesting than the aesthetic nods, Delarue and Madelaine could quite easily be seen as extrapolations of John Wayne and Natalie Wood’s Ethan and Debbie Edwards of The Searchers. Morgan takes Ethan’s obsession and corruption to psychotic levels, while the unusually subdued if still simmering Green presents a “Debbie” who not only had to endure all her torment from the earlier film, but also a decade or so under Ethan’s poisonous influence.
But all eyes are on Mikkelsen as the taciturn and tormented Jon, whom the actor and director wisely resist the urge to deconstruct. And although some ropey CGI and a couple of ill-judged flashy camera tricks puncture the old school feel of the picture, this is a refreshing antidote to the current trend towards ironising and revising classic genre cinema. A violent and thrilling B-movie, made with a great deal of skill.