Published on May 24th, 2015 | by Allan Brown0
Slow West Review
Movie Review: Slow West (2015)
Running Time: 84 minutes
Director: John Maclean
Writers: John Maclean
Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorius, Rory McCann
The story of youthful naivety and blind love drive film-maker John Maclean’s unconventional western through the harsh and unforgiving landscape of the American frontier.
Despite it being the Scottish director’s début feature, the film along with its exquisite cinematography, subtle elegance, dark humour and impeccable performances, it’s no surprise Slow West has been generating such interest of the International film festival circuit.
Through naïve determination, a young Scottish aristocrat by the name of Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) sets forth on an ill-fated transatlantic journey, in a bid to reunite with his beloved Rose (Caren Pistorious). Arriving in Colorado in 1870 alone and underprepared, life lessons, hardship and danger soon follow, as young Cavendish negotiates the cruel and majestic terrain of the Wild West.
Along the way he encounters a hard-nosed outlaw by the name of Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender), who not only saves his skin from certain death, but joins him on his quest – for a small fee. Before long, Cavendish learns of a $2000 bounty that has been placed on both Rose and her father John Ross’ (Rory McCann) head, a bounty that has followed them west across the pacific ocean from their Scottish highland croft on the Cavendish estate. Knowing such riches would naturally generate healthy interest among undesirables and opportunists, Cavendish and Selleck make haste across the wild plains of the frontier, in a bid to reach Rose before the band of outlaws who follow close behind them – led by the skulking Payne (Ben Mendelsohn), get there first.
Wasting no time at all, Slow West quickly finds its feet establishing not only the beautiful vastness of the landscape to which it calls home (framed beautifully in all its glorious spender by Cinematographer Robbie Ryan, who does not miss a beat throughout), but in presenting our young fragile protagonist full of youthful naivety and wide-eyed wonder. Maclean’s decision to go with young Australian actor Kodi Smit-McPhee for the role of Cavendish, was nothing short of a master-stroke in casting. Not only does the young actor convey the vulnerability so crucial for the role, but confidently holds his own on screen in the presence of acting giants Michael Fassbender and Ben Mendelsohn – not to mention that utterly convincing Scottish accent he embraced for the part. Mel Gibson, Take Note!
Fassbender presents a formidable physical presence in the role of bounty hunter Silas, and although his character is more aloof than others in the film, his selective words, quick-wit and stern hard-nosed attitude offers some of the most delightful character exchanges in recent times.
Although Mendelsohn’s screen time is limited, his cunning and unpredictable antics as reneged outlaw Payne offers one of the most intense and uncomfortable moments, in an exchange between himself, Fassbender and Smit-McPhee, that looks to be leading only one way. The writing and performances in these scenes are delightful to watch play out, like two leviathans sizing each other up before battle.
Newcomer Caren Pistorius also delights as a strong female presence in the few scenes she shares, throwing the notion and preconceived stereotypes of a damsel in distress, to the wind.
As the film shifts gear from engaging buddy movie to violent thriller, whilst juggling tonal shifts from the moody, gritty and intense to the comedic and surreal, what would perhaps normally feel cluttered, fragmented or in-cohesive, Maclean relishes in the juxtaposition he creates, handling the tonal shifts with confidence, skill and utter conviction. As a result we are left with a multi-layered experience that works on many levels. One the one hand, it is a striking historical commentary of the brutality and bloodshed that helped build America, whilst on the other, a playful thriller peppered with dark humour and quick-witted dialogue, airbrushed in an almost surreal quality.
Underpinning the visual delight on-screen is composer Jed Kurzel’s delightful score, which for me, is some of the composer’s best work to date.
Summary: Slow West is a stunning triumph that is all things smart, subtle and visually intoxicating. It not only rejuvenates the Western for a new generation, but establishes John Maclean as a fresh and exciting new talent.