Genre: Western, Drama
Directed by: John Maclean
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorius
A lot of Westerns are known for taking their time when it comes to storytelling, so a Western actually named Slow West might be approached with caution. If Westerns are often a bit slow anyway then just how slow is Slow West going to be? Thankfully this warning is unnecessary. Though Slow West is thoughtfully paced, it’s also smart, elegant, and excellent.
Slow West follows a young, noble-born Scotsman named Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smith-McPhee) as he makes his way West across the wilds of America to find his childhood love, Rose (Caren Pistorius), who has recently been forced to flee Scotland for America with her father. Jay is well-meaning and determined but also hopelessly out of his depth, something which becomes immediately apparent when he is held-up at gunpoint at the start of the film. Thankfully he crosses paths with bounty hunter Silas (Michael Fassbender) who he hires to be his guide and bodyguard, though Silas has a hidden agenda of his own. The pair have a classic odd-couple relationship with the naïve and romantic Jay frequently butting heads with the cynical and world-weary Silas, but as they trudge West from one encounter to the next they begrudgingly develop an increasingly respectful and paternal relationship.Of course this being the old West, there’s plenty of danger on their travels but also a fair amount of humour and surrealism too. Jay frequently dreams about his past and his imagined future and at times Slow West takes on a bit of a dream-like quality even when the characters are all awake. Writer/director John Maclean peppers conventional elements of the Western like anti-heroes, shoot-outs and expansive scenery with the sort of unusual, oddball touches that wouldn’t be out of place in a Coen Brothers movie. This is most definitely a ‘serious’ movie with fine dramatic performance and touching moments but there’s more light and shade than you might expect. Even the climatic showdown, which has very real stakes and consequences, finds plenty of room for inventive staging and wry humour.Slow West certainly takes its time but it’s never dull or overlong. Though most of the real action is reserved for the finale, danger is never far away and things often feel like they could erupt into violence and bloodshed at any second. It’s self-aware without being ironic, poignant without being soppy and poetic without being ‘arty’. Above all it’s simply a great film, made all the more remarkable by being John Maclean’s first feature film. Watch this space.