Director: John Maclean
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorius, Rory McCann
Written by: John Maclean
Running Time: 84 mins
Release date: 26th June 2015
The western is a well-worn genre, so tackling it in this day and age, you have to bring something new to the table. So to take on such a huge part of cinematic history for your feature debut as a writer and director, you have to show originality while at the same time, keeping the things that make a western what it is. Thankfully, Slow West does mix the traditional with the new, although it does suffer from living up to its title.
16-year-old Jay has travelled to the States from Scotland and is looking for the love of his life, Rose. Saved by a wandering outlaw, Silas, the young man is taken under the gunslinger’s wing and they both head west. What Jay doesn’t know is that Rose and her father are wanted for murder and they have a bounty on their heads. Is that the reason for Silas’s interest in Jay?
Scottish born writer and director John Maclean certainly has a cinematic eye. This is gorgeously mounted piece, beautifully photographed by Robbie Ryan. The scenery, mainly from New Zealand, is exquisite to behold. Once scene, in which storm clouds gather over a distant mountain is particularly stunning.
Maclean also seems to have a love for the genre. He sets up some pretty exciting set pieces, a few well handled gun fights, while at the same time adding the occasional dark humour to spice things up. It has the look and feel of something the Coen Brothers may create. Yet for all these things and an unexpected tale of an innocent abroad, a fish out of water story, the film trudges along at a leisurely pace that sometimes feels like its going to stop altogether.
It also relies too heavily on random characters popping up for no apparent reason, then disappearing (in one case, literally). On their journey together, Jay and Silas come across three black singers in the middle of nowhere, who speak French. As soon as they appear, they are gone, without explanation. Not only are these moments frustrating, they seem to slow things down even more and at 84 minutes long, it feels longer.
The performances, however, make things up, with the film belonging to Kodi Smit-McPhee as Jay, and Michael Fassbender as Silas. The two make for an intriguing partnership. Smit-McPhee this wide-eyed innocent who, even Silas is surprised has survived. Fassbender brings as edge of cool to his role of the hardened outlaw. We never really know what his intentions are as to why he’s so keen on helping the helpless kid. Sadly, the rest of the characters are more like sketches, with the usually excellent Ben Mendelsohn being given very little to do as the leader of a band of bandits.
With its surprising moments of violence and a satisfying ending that carries a neat twist, there is plenty here to admire and Maclean is obviously a talent to keep an eye out for. It’s just a pity that this is such a labored and slow-moving tale, otherwise this could have been a great film, instead of just a good one.