Slow West Review: Michael Fassbender Stars in a Fresh Take on Westerns

Written by Ryan Demarco

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It’s funny to see that even in the Old West love can conquer all. Especially during such an untamed time period when threat and violence lingers around every corner. That’s what Slow West sets out to prove. The film intriguingly combines a coming of age tale and fight for survival that’s immersed in a fairy tale-like world. All of this is served up in a lean story that cuts no corners and takes refreshing liberties with its central characters. The story is told in a brisk 84 minutes.

Beginning the tale is a young Scottish boy named Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who has set out to find Rose, a girl who he fell madly in love with back in their hometown. Her family picked up and left for America after her father is wanted for a murder that was simply no more than an accident. Jay follows behind as he travels from his homeland landing right smack in the center of the Mid West. Within the first few minutes of the film Jay is staring down the barrel of a rifle from a few Union soldiers after they had just burned down an Indian Village. Stepping in to save the boy from certain death is Silas (Michael Fassbender). Silas has all the right angles of the mysterious drifter that would prefer to have his peacekeeper do the talking. He offers to “chaperone” the boy to find Rose. The two are at odds with each other as Jay figures Silas as a trigger happy brute while Silas doesn’t believe Jay is capable to survive without his help, but seems to also have some undisclosed reasoning for his reasoning for him helping the boy.

Hot on their heels is Payne, played by the always great Ben Mendelsohn (The Place Beyond the Pines) and his band of ruthless bounty hunters who happened to be after Rose and her father. We quickly find out that Silas was once part of the gang which raises the question if he is still helping his old partners or is he trying to insure that Jay steers clear of them to get to his love?

Written and Directed from newcomer John Maclean, Slow West fires on all cylinders with a lean screenplay that doesn’t come up short and proves to pack a solid punch. His scope and direction all work wonderfully by channeling certain aspects of Tarentino, The Coen’s, as well Wes Anderson all while still remaining fresh and never feels like retread of any other stories that have been told. The landscape is jaw dropping, credit to cinematographer Robbie Ryan for choosing New Zealand as the setting for Colorado. The wide frame shots of Smit-Mcphee and Fassbender on horseback come off as fantasy and just plain other worldly. It is absolutely gorgeous and plays brilliantly with the score, which is haunting and playful. Slow West works best when it stays on the small scale as an isolated Old West story.

The cast is top notch and is solid all around. Michael Fassbender, marking this as his third collaboration with Maclean, is extraordinary playing the father figure and guide to Jay. Some of the best lines of the film come from his character at times when he has a gun waiving in his face or in any moment where danger is lurking. On a sidenote it was pleasing to see him cover his accent, since he has had a few slip ups in the past. Kodi Smit-Mcphee did a fantastic job carrying most of the film as well.

Still being in his teenage years he has expressed such a wide range with his roles and he always does little behavioral traits to really make his characters excel. Mendelsohn does great work playing the leader of hunters and his playful interactions with Fassbender and company raises his character from just another gunslinger. Not to be left out is Caren Pistorius, who easily makes due with what limited screen time she was given as Jay’s love.

Slow West marks a wonderful feature debut for Director John Maclean who manages to capture some really great character moments with an impressive small cast and weaving three stories in profound fashion. This is an unconventional western film with a slow burn that really sizzles at the conclusion. With what could have been a poor decision, Maclean chooses to keep the run time down to a low and simply sticks with a lean story, only telling what needs to be told. There’s no added flair here and simply lets the characters do the talking while keeping the violence in brief but astonishing spurts. Slow West certainly aims high and hits its mark.

Rating: 9/10

Slow West is currently in theaters and on VOD.

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