Starring Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Mendelsohn
Lack of western’s got you down? Look no further than the directorial debut of John Maclean’s Slow West. Bouncing around film festivals for six months, Slow West is an odyssey of poetic characters, providing sarcasm, nostalgia and love in every persona. Slow West would likely be the result if Tarantino and Scorsese teamed up in their early careers to do a dark, bloody, 1870’s New Frontier road trip movie. What makes this rare genre film so interesting is its unpredictability, the characters from the onset fly in the face of tradition and expected roles, not to mention you get Magneto and Nightcrawler on screen together before they even appear in X-Men: Apocalypse next year.
16-year-old Jay Cavendish (McPhee) is alone in this new country called America, “A jack rabbit in a den of wolves” he is called. Back in Scotland, Jay and girlfriend Rose (Pistorius) were inseparable, but she and her father (McCann), like many immigrants have ventured to America’s new frontier. Their wealth has created a thirsty bounty from outlaws, and Jay is unaware he is leading everyone to them. Silas Selleck (Fassbender), saves the young boy’s skin, then demands reward for it. Jay refers to Silas as a brute, but understands it’s the best chance he has of seeing Rose again. Silas has abandoned the Payne Gang, known as one of the most dangerous in the land, but still has the notion to take the $2000 he knows Ross and her father are carrying. The money keeps the brute and the boy together but something beyond money will led them to the end of their journey.
Everything is lush, bursting with opulent color and depth, another example of going against the typical western hue.
I’ve always heard the journey to your destination should be as fun as the destination itself. Maclean seems to live by this notion as we rarely even care about the outcome because the adventure these two misfits encounter is so fulfilling. It’s also the way the film is shot, everything is lush, bursting with opulent color and depth, another example of going against the typical western hue. Cinematographer Robbie Ryan (Philomena) offers some really eye catching moments, almost so much they are distracting from the dialogue. Shooting through animal skeletons, or creating a cartoon like juxtaposition with our lead and a mushroom are just a few memorable moments. Whether it’s the character development, images on screen or the plot, there is never a dull moment for the senses.
When Jay is under attack and finds an arrow piercing the palm of his hand, Silas calmly says, “nice catch”. This might be the most natural role I have seen Fassbender play, his persona in interviews and outside of film roles seems to mirror the sarcasm of Silas. It’s Fassbender that really elevates Slow West to such a watchable level. That isn’t to discount McPhee whom I encountered at SXSW a few years back in All the Wilderness and you probably already know him from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Whether or not his venture into comic book movie world is successful or not, McPhee is in good company alongside Fassbender, and here is hoping he continues to seek out indie roles.
Slow West is a wonderful quench of thirst to the lack of inventive westerns in the modern era.