Slow West (2015) Film Review from the 14th Annual Tribeca Film Festival, a movie directed by John Maclean, starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorius, and Rory McCann.
In Scottish director John Maclean’s directorial debut Slow West, don’t expect this to be an ordinary western. Slow West is more of a road movie that also mixes in with some dark humor similar to the Coen Brothers’ work. The movie follows a Scottish rich kid named Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who is traveling through 1870s Colorado in search of the girl he loves named Rose (Caren Pistorius), who has fled to America with her father John (Rory McCann). Jay runs into a bounty hunter named Silas (Michael Fassbender) during a brutal encounter with some soldiers. Silas offers his services of protection and escorting him to where Rose is. Little does Jay know that his crush and her father are wanted murderers with bounties on their heads, and Silas also happens to be after them for the money. Silas narrates the story and confesses his motives on taking Jay along, but it’s later on that we find out that Silas begins to have a soft side for the kid.
Hot on their trail is Payne (Ben Mendelsohn) and his group of cold-blooded bounty hunters. As an ex-member of the team, Silas became a loner getting quick cash through delivering bounties. Payne won’t have any of that as the leader tries to convince Silas to come back to the group. It’s no surprise that both Payne and Silas have different views when it comes to the boy, but Silas does whatever he can to protect Jay from them and the truth about Rose. The movie comes to a head in a climactic gunfight that brings all the characters together in a final showdown that results in bloodshed and an unpredictable death.
Slow West may be considered a Western, but it also is a coming-of-age story about Jay becoming a man and Silas learning that there is more to life than living on the road. The graphic violence may come off as funny sometimes, but it works for a film taking place in the Old West. The chemistry between Smit-McPhee and Fassbender is great, as Jay’s unpreparedness and curiosity matches with Silas’ stone cold attitude. However, Jay’s determination to get to the girl he loves affects Silas as a human being. Silas starts having this father-son bond with Jay by teaching him how to shoot a gun and even giving him his first shave. At the same time, Jay shows Silas the beauty of life, so it’s hard to tell which of these men are actually growing up.
With the film shot in New Zealand, Robbie Ryan does a stunning job with the cinematography using the landscape as a substitute for the Old West. Jed Kurzel’s score brings in the right tone for the film using lots of string percussions and stays light, especially in the fight scenes. Both the score and the shots bring in a wonderfully visual campus of the American Frontier that most of us are familiar with in many Western films.
Maclean brilliantly executes this movie with flair combining the Western genre with some European influences. While it has its share of conventionally glum and moody elements, Slow West is unique for it’s sharpness, witty humor, silly violence, and it’s fairy tale traits. The film is a lovely journey about growing up and how immigrants perceive the Old West through their eyes.
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