Slow West is a newly released Western directed by John Maclean and starring Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Karen Pistorius and, honestly, a movie such as this doesn’t come around too often.
This film accommodates many characteristics custom to the traditional “Western”; a hard journey across a barren yet breath-taking American landscape, a mean, gruff bounty hunter taking a worse off, though altogether ambitious, youngster under their wing, and a good old bad guys vs. good guys shoot off for a climax. All of this is done well, though what makes Slow West an arguably remarkable film, is the way in which Maclean strives to capture the poignant beauty of this cruel environment through a series of delicate and colourful shots and an exploitation of his impressive ability to complement the vulnerability but also harshness of this place.
A dominant theme in Slow West is undoubtedly that of oppression and this topic is communicated quite modestly throughout the picture, though the overall impact it can have on you is ultimately rather overwhelming. Maclean identifies issues with the Native Americans and the slaughter and brutality that these people suffered. Strikingly, and surely deliberately manufactured for a significant message to be expressed, the vast majority of central and also not so central characters are not actually American but Irish, Scottish, some sort of European and so on, suggesting that the only people who could truly call this place home were the Native Americans – and everyone else were just intruders.
Jay Cavendish is wonderfully brought to life by Smit-McPhee and is a young Scott desperately trying to be reunited with the woman that he loves, though may be poisoned by a boyish disillusion or imagining with regard to whether or not she actually loves him back. Though nevertheless, there is something really exciting and endearing about a young man doing whatever it takes to win the woman he has feelings for. This is not the first time Smit-McPhee has produced a phenomenal performance in a big Hollywood movie after having roles in The Road, Let Me In and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Slow West is a worthy addition to the collection. He and Fassbender complement each other brilliantly as we watch a captivating relationship unfold.
Slow West does not rely on guns and chases and cheesy one liners to be successful, even though they do offer a frantically good display of shoot offs, ones that are totally unpredictable and heart pounding, and instead it illuminates a smart, visually appealing treat of a spectacle. This year could be very good for Fassbender with Macbeth promising big things, and this is an excellent way to return to the screen. He plays Silas, the bounty hunter, who, for reasons of his own, wishes to help Jay find his beloved. We learn of Silas’ past endeavours, but we are not bogged down with unnecessary details that are irrelevant to the story, though such issues from his past are possibly just a half-assed effort to spice the plot up a bit as comrades he once knew pose threats to him and Jay. Similarly, there is certainly a development and bonding in terms of Silas and Jay’s relationship, but Maclean does well in not allowing it to get too soppy, which may be the case in True Grit, and the two characters remain distant and reasonably uninterested in the other.
The film does tackle some pretty serious problems, but not in an in-your-face way. It embraces its simplicity and henceforth, leads to a very enjoyable watch, giving the viewer a pure, vivid sense of the Wild West and the brutality and beauty it is decorated with. It, in many ways, is a fantastic picture, one that has the potential to go down as one of the best Westerns, and it shows the ability of Maclean, Fassbender and Smit-McPhee plus others. Visually stunning, and quirkily entrancing, Slow West really works.