Director: John Maclean
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee & Ben Mendelsohn
Synopsis: When 16-year-old Jay comes to the American frontier to search for the woman he loves, he meets mysterious traveller Silas, who agrees to be Jay’s guide-but for his own dishonourable ends.
Rating: 15 Run time: 84 minutes Release date: November 2 (UK)
Slow West is a film as beautiful as it is bizarre, mixing fantasy-like visuals with a brutal realism that makes for a film that is hard to pin down at times, but leaves you in no doubt that this is as good as modern westerns get. Jay (Kodi Smit-Mcphee) leaves his native Scotland in search of his one true love; Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius). His journey takes him to America during the 1800’s, a time where the land and its inhabitants were about one thing; surviving.
After coming across a group of men chasing down a Native American, Jay makes an allegiance with bounty hunter Silas (Michael Fassbender). Silas agrees to help Jay find his beloved in return for cash, but Silas harbours his own reasons for partnering with the young Scotsman. The relationship between Jay & Silas is as layered as the rest of the film and provides the focal point for much of what happens in Slow West. There’s is not an easy relationship, and it is borne out of necessity as much as it is through loneliness.
Jay is in need of someone who is familiar with this harsh land in order to find his one true love. While Silas, loathe to admit it, is a man becoming tired of his life and the isolation it brings with it and the two form an unlikely friendship. The two leads, Fassbender & McPhee, are exceptional in their roles. Fassbender displaying his icy cool charm, while never giving up the 1,000 yard stare that tells you his character has seen a thousand stories play out before his eyes, while McPhee has all the innocence of a young man lost in a terrain he is completely unfamiliar with.
Director John Maclean has littered his film with memorable characters, and for a film that is only 84 minutes long, it’s a testament to his work that everyone feels as if they have been done justice. While Silas and Jay provide the core of the film, it’s secondary characters, if you will, provide just as much entertainment in their nuanced performances. Ben Mendlesohn is on fine form as Payne, an old acquaintance of Silas and a man who also has his eyes on poor Rose Ross and her father. Mendlesohn has a quiet menace about him, and is able to mark his authority with well chosen words and hard looks, as well as the occasional bout of violence. His line towards the end of the film; “kill that house” is sure to become an iconic quote among fans of the western genre.
As with all great westerns, the violence is carefully placed and provides a more meatier impact when it arrives, thus creating a sense that things may not end well for everyone. The action is carefully placed and propels the story along, rather than just being there to placate gore hounds and adrenaline junkies. It makes for a refreshing change and shows that Maclean has a love for the Western genre and its multiple clichés.
As mentioned at the start of this review, Slow West walks a fine line between fantasy and gritty realism. The film is shot in an almost fairytale way, while the beauty and the brutality of the land is never lost on the audience. Likewise, Slow West embraces the comedy of life in certain scenes, and doesn’t shy away from showing us how something very funny can happen at the most inopportune of moments.
Slow West does indeed blend various elements and Maclean is never afraid to mix things up, creating a wonderful film in the process. Exquisitely shot and acted to perfection, Slow West is a western fans dream that is one of the years highlights.
A mixed bunch is on offer on the Slow West Blu-Ray. A trailer and deleted scenes are available, with the deleted scenes offering little to the film and were rightly removed before the final cut hit cinemas. An introduction to the film is provided by director Maclean, where he talks of his love for the genre and how he prepared himself then his crew for production in New Zealand. Despite being only four minutes long, his introduction provides informative insight into the films creation.
Two short films are featured on the disc; “Pitch Black Heist” and “Railroad & The Moon”. The former sees Maclean team with up Michael Fassbender in an interesting tale regarding a heist and its somewhat meticulous planning. While coming in at just under 14 minutes, Pitch Black Heist is an interesting character study and does more with its time than many major productions can manage in two or more hours.
A Q&A with the films director after the films première further exemplifies Macleans love of Western films and provides further insight into how he created Slow West. It’s an interesting watch, with Maclean coming across as a very amicable man and someone who has a lot of enthusiasm and a real desire to be an excellent film-maker.