“A Danish western you say? Mads Mikkelsen you say? Well now… How could I say no?!”
This is a western right down to its core. Its basic plot could arguably be lifted from many Eastwood classics. But there is a hell-bent twist on the whole ordeal, making it a more complex study of a good, decent man who is robbed of everything for no good reason, despite his best intentions and attempts to prevent the inevitable. When it begins, it initially seems like an interesting period film, somewhat like The Homesman, which was based in the old west but was nothing like a western. This however is a western, starting off relatively harmless but not pulling any punches when the fight starts, as it doesn’t take long for this movie’s pendulum to take a brutal swing, and family man Mads suddenly has a taste for blood.
It is nice to see Westerns still floating about, and this one is rather good, and far from a simple carbon copy either. The fact that it is Danish makes it intriguing from the get-go, and also gives it a different cultural flavour to what we are used to seeing – especially in a Western. So while it may look like a western and sound like a western, the basic recipe has a frag grenade thrown into the pot. Like many films of this year, this is essentially a revenge flick at its heart, though handled a little more deftly than say ‘John Wick’. Sure, it doesn’t have the style of that particular title, but what it lacks in style its more than makes up for in sheer brutality, combined with a unique mix of family values and what revenge can mean, how far is it worth taking it, and perhaps also: is revenge ever the right thing to do?
These aren’t questions that are answered, but you’ll find yourself pondering over these themes as the movies goes by. It’s certainly more than your bare-bones plot of many an old school Western – of course they are classics, but they all revolve around essentially the same plot if you change a few words here and there. This however has some richly detailed characters and twists that you don’t expect, as well as a truly insane level of disgust, hatred, and pure blood-lust. Mads was a local in a quiet country town, but that doesn’t last long. He has managed to upset the wrong man, who has the entire small town under his thumb. plays this character incredibly well, he becomes his character and convinces you that he is the sick man that he is, with nothing but evil and bad deeds coursing through his cold blood.
Another aspect of the film that I enjoyed immensely was its study of the concept of an ‘eye for an eye’. It will have you thinking what you would do in such situations, as it doesn’t take long for the bloodbath to begin. Each kill, each hit is sickeningly realistic; another factor that makes this a very different western. Each gunshot hits you hard in the gut. Or, perhaps a shot that hits the target that will be followed by five further rounds at extremely close range, juuust to make sure? Perhaps those extra rounds help for some type of closure.
This movie is most definitely one thing: unpredictable. Its erratic nature is not due to inane twists either, this is simply a very well written story that just happens to be a Danish Western. You are never quite sure of Mads’ intentions, and his actions may shock if you aren’t following closely. There is no doubt about it, Mads makes the film. He is seemingly without conscience or fear, and he doesn’t bat an eyelid in pulling off both those traits, almost with ease. Eva Green, in a speechless role, shows that she doesn’t need to get her tits out to act well, as her face and eyes say a helluva lot. Mads’ nemesis and terrorizor of the town, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, makes for a deliciously evil villain. The setting of a quiet, small old western town only amplifies this sense of terror that this man can inflict, with nothing but evil and bad deeds coursing through his cold blood.
A theme that was very much explored by The Homesman is explored here too: specifically, the way women were treated in those old societies. Or more to the point, what arrogant and ego-filled pigs many men seemed to be. There are a few uncomfortable but necessary scenes to display this, though nothing like The Homesman which really centered around that theme. This aspect adds another layer of evil to this small, qaint and at-first-glance peaceful old western town whose residents have been consistently harassed and abused by one man.
For a Danish Western, this is certainly one of the better westerns I have seen in recent times, as it is extremely well written and multi-layered in the themes it explores as the tension builds amongst everyone in the town. This is an enjoyable action/revenge flick that also has a heart, and a thoughtful streak. Either a Friday night movie with a beer, or a movie to sit down, turn off the lights, turn up that sub-woofer and immerse yourself into the dense world that this movie creates. It is more than it first seems.
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