Slow West: Movie Review

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Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Mendelsohn

Director: John Maclean        

Fresh from Sundance success, the blackly wry Western Slow West gives the genre something a little different and proves a welcome tonic to the usual genre fare.

Smit-McPhee stars as Jay Cavendish, a kid whose determination to reunite with his love Rose has seen him head across the plains of the Wild west of Colorado. But Jay is an effete, naive dreamer, whose first moments see him cross paths with Silas (a cigar chewing Fassbender, who's terrific as the drifter who hides a secret). Realising that Jay's out of his depth, he offers to pay Silas to get him to his destination.

Which is probably a good thing - as there are all manner of hidden dangers in the Wild West, including Payne (a brilliantly quiet and menacing Mendelsohn) who's following them...

Packed with gallows humour and a heart as black as can be, Slow West is a terrific piece that packs a touch of the buddy road movie along with some unexpectedly humorous sight gags to great effect.

With diametrically opposed ideals, Silas and Jay make queasy road buddies, each with different reasons for doing what they need to do to survive (though Jay is completely out of his depth, his emotional touch gives us the cornerstone we need to connect).

Packing in philosophy with musings on how the west was (an anthropologist remarks at one point that soon all of this will be a long time ago) with some dark humour that shows the horror of the west (Jay tries on a suit at a trading post, only to discover it has a bloody bullet hole), Maclean's managed to create something that simultaneously embraces the Western tropes while adding something new. In among the uneasiness and violence on the road to resolution, there are laughs to be had, pratfalls to observe and some terrific musings on the nature of life and love. (As well as one particularly cruel but immensely funny take on the salt in the wound comment)

Smit-McPhee adds an ethereal almost sickly touch to his pasty Jay, a dreamer whose recollections of his time with Rose hint toward trouble ahead; equally, Fassbender's drifter has a touch of the classic western man with no name ethos around him (though his change of heart seems to come from leftfield) but he embodies the gruff Marlboro men of the time as the mournful score progresses.

With its off-kilter sensibilities and its 4:3 aspect ratio, Slow West is something different; a take on a tale of the Frontier previously unwitnessed but yet reverent to its roots. It's an exciting fusion of daring; a shaking up of the genre that embraces, then subverts the romance of the Wild West and gives the audience a breath of cinematic fresh air.

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