Slow West (2015)

slowwest_2015_poster
Slow West (2015)
  • Time: 84 min
  • Genre: Action | Thriller | Western
  • Director: John Maclean
  • Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Rory McCann, Ben Mendelsohn

Storyline:

‘Slow West’ follows a 16-year-old boy on a journey across 19th Century frontier America in search of the woman he loves, while accompanied by mysterious traveler Silas.

One review

  • There is a simple wooden house standing somewhere in the Colorado plains. Inside, a young woman sets the table. Outside, a scarecrow stands guard over the yellow fields. A reverend aims his rifle at a man mending fences. The washing dries in the breeze. A young man desperately tries to cut the ties that bind him to a tree. A group of outlaws, guns at the ready, slowly approach the house. A man, his body an unwilling host to a pair of bullets, laughs at the hopelessness of the situation. Before it arrives at this journey’s end, the starkly poetic Slow West begins with those ever fateful words, “Once upon a time…”

    There was a young man named Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee), barely 16, who travelled from “the cold shoulder of Scotland to the baking heart of America to find his love.” Her name is Rose (Caren Pistorius) and, unbeknownst to Jay, there is a bounty on her and her father (Rory McCann). A hopeless romantic with his head in the stars, Jay quickly realises the dangers of life in the great wide open when he encounters a union officer hunting down Native Americans for sport. The young Scotsman is rescued by Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender), who offers to be guide and protector for this “jackrabbit in a den of wolves.” Reasoning that it’s safer to travel with a killer, Jay agrees to pay him, not realising that Silas is using him to locate Rose so he can claim the reward.

    There is a certain barbarism and savagery required to survive in this beautiful but unforgiving land. It is not exclusive to the immigrants who have come from far and wide; it extends to the natives who find their lands trespassed upon and possessed without permission. Silas notes Jay’s optimistic outlook – “To [the kid], we were in the land of hope and goodwill.” – and compares it to his own jaundiced worldview. Their myriad encounters support Silas’ less trusting nature. Even the relatively innocuous tune sung by a trio of Congolese musicians is laced with portent: “Love, like death, is universal.”

    A respite at a trading post results in bloodshed and Jay’s almost dreamy sit-down with a friendly, writerly sort – “My ears hear your music” is the man’s response to Jay’s “I come in peace” greeting – seems a refuge from Silas’ taciturn but brutish nature, only to reveal itself as a more civilised method of betrayal. Trust is the rarest of currencies in these parts.

    Writer-director John Maclean was a musician before he turned filmmaker, and there is a deliberate rhythm to Slow West that lends an off-kilter quality to the proceedings. It is as if there is another layer running parallel to, but not wholly synchronised with, the main layer of the film. Maclean’s keen sense of timing asserts itself in other ways, from the meticulous editing of that standoff in the trading post to the breathtakingly choreographed finale.

    Smit-McPhee fits the bill of the gangly, gawky naif – an Alice in the wonderland of colourful characters. Fassbender’s congenital charisma, with its strange mix of cruelty and tenderness, is perfect for Silas, a character whose motivations remain suspect up until the final frames. He and Smit-McPhee work well together, but the true highlight is Fassbender’s pairing with Ben Mendelsohn as the deceptively jovial but menacing Payne. Their moonlit confrontation is staged like a perverse dance between lovers, one seducing whilst the other resists. It is an unsettlingly erotic and unexpected moment in a briskly paced, carefully composed, and confidently executed film.

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