Slow West

Directed by John Maclean

Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender and Ben Mendelsohn
In UK Cinemas June 26th, 2015

by Joanna Orland

Musician turned director John Maclean strikes a chord with his masterful first feature film Slow West.  The Western is an ambitious genre to take on as a first full length film production, but Maclean (formerly of The Beta Band) defines a signature style with Slow West, turning a classic western into an arthouse indie gem.  Slickly pieced together, visually stunning, bold and gripping, the film can almost be a companion piece to the music of The Beta Band, which itself wouldn’t have been out of place in this stylized film where music plays as much of a mood-enhancing role as the stunning visuals and fascinating performances.

Jay (McPhee) is traveling westward across America in search of his love Rose.  He is full of drive and naivety on his travels as he encounters survivalist bounty hunter Silas (Fassbender) who offers Jay his services as guide and protector.  These two men begin their journey together on opposite ends of the spectrum.  Jay is innocently unsuspecting of the wild west that surrounds him and the people that inhibit it.  His love for Rose is his reason for being and he would do anything to reach her.  Silas is weary of the world and all of the treacherous threats that lurk under every rock of the desert landscape – his objective is to survive.  Throughout the journey, Jay is unwittingly leading Silas to Rose who unbeknownst to Jay has a bounty on her head which Silas is eager to collect.  Silas is unwittingly becoming less of a survivalist for the sake of it, and learning to actually enjoy life as time with Jay begins to ease the loneliness that he has felt throughout his life roaming the land.  The men who began at opposite ends of the spectrum, find themselves merging in the middle in this beautiful character centric film.

Dreamlike sound and visuals are haunting and mesmerizing throughout, making Slow West not only worthy for its character arcs, but for the stylistically beautiful mood it sets.  Director Maclean not only takes influence from other Western films, but from classic Fairy Tales which like Slow West often stray into dark and dreamlike territory.  While Fairy Tales, art house cinema and Maclean’s time with The Beta Band all have visible influences on Slow West, the film is still undeniably a western, climaxing in a most rewarding shootout which is both eloquent and fervid.  Meticulously choreographed, the shootout is almost flawless, with the exception of a ham-fisted salt joke which falls flatter than the dead bodies left in the wake of the shootout.  While dark Coen Brothers type humour is not used without merit in this film, it does have a time and a place – this was not it.

Much like how Duncan Jones’ first feature film Moon brought indie cred to the Sci Fi genre, Slow West proves that the same can, and should be done to The Western.  John Maclean’s Slow West is a revelation.

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