Danish director Kristian Levring has already delved into the past, with his Malaysian-set period piece The Intended. Whereas that film was a languid, tropical piece, The Salvation is action-packed and arid.

The American West in the 1870s: Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) is at the train station to pick up his wife and young son, who he hasn’t seen in seven years. With him is his brother Peter (Mikael Persbrandt), who won’t be journeying on the stagecoach with the family, preferring to let his hair down in town. As soon as the journey gets underway the situation precipitates. Jon is hurled from the coach and as he follows its path he stumbles across the body of his son. When he reaches the stagecoach and kills the two men, it is too late: his wife has also been murdered. But Jon has killed the wrong man. He’s the brother of Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, in a nice bit of casting against type), the local gang leader who torments the town. Delarue will only be happy when his brother’s killer is found.

Thus we have a classic western with a good man’s search for personal revenge. All the elements are here, from the powerful score reminiscent of spaghetti westerns to stirrups jangling as cuban heels hit the floorboards. We’ve got Madeleine (Eva Green), the murderer’s moll who’s had her tongue cut out by Indians, and of course the hero who not only has to take on the gang, but do so without the help of the cowardly townspeople and corrupt leader-cum-coffin maker Keane (Jonathan Pryce). The reason for Keane’s corruption is that “sticky oil” coming out of the ground. He sells off plots of land cheaply to Delarue who rakes in the cash by selling them on to a big oil company.

This is just one aspect that makes this western a little different from those it superficially resembles. The cheap land sale has its contemporary parallel in those who are encouraged to hand their land over to conglomerates involved in fracking. But there are others: the cinematography gives this film a look like no other western. When Jon comes across the stagecoach by moonlight, the is more like something from a horror film or more fantastical kind of movie. In contrast, the day scenes are heavily imbued with colour, the screen drenched in reds and oranges.

Mikkelsen and Persbrandt convince as the noble brothers, whilst Pryce and Morgan provide fine performances. Eric Cantona also makes an appearance as the Corsican. in fact, the use of different nationalities works well as we see the American West gradually filling up with foreigners looking for a new life. It is hard to know to whom the salvation of the title refers: is Peter saving his brother or himself for abandoning his brother’s family at the station, is Jon saving the town, is Madeleine saving herself? Perhaps there is no salvation, just survival in the savagery of this particularly wild west.