An American western with German and Australian actors filmed in New Zealand. Its time to go west.
John Maclean has laid out a modern western with Slow West, taking traditional elements of gun slinging adventure films and giving it a realistic modern feel with sweeping scenery, multicultural melting pot cast and crisp editing.
Following the standard road movie formula, 2 unlikely people are teamed up to face adversity as their traverse a wild and beautiful landscape in search of something. In this case the two are Scottish youngster, Jay Cavendish and a bounty hunter, Silas Selleck as they head west across frontier America to find the love of Cavendish’s life. Unfortunately they must also contend with a team of bounty hunters after the same woman and a selection of other humans, all looking to survive in the harsh conditions. Initially Jay is wide eyed and innocent, Silas becoming his guide and protector in his quest for love. As Slow West continues we see both characters change due to each other, the traditionally stoic Silas is infected by Jay’s well meaning and the end of the film is uncertain as each character's interests converge. We are even thrown some social commentary as we see indigenous Indian tribes being hunted and forced from their land in the first half of the film.
Slow West contains sparse dialogue, the plot is progressed in flashbacks and sleek edits through rolling landscape communicating the passing of time and distance. Occasional music stands stark in the mix, wistful and pained like the landscape it is accompanying. The film is coloured in reds and yellows, violent and aged colours communicated in costume, scenery and buildings, reinforcing the emotive dissonance felt by the characters fighting to find their satisfaction in the world.
The main performances of Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee take some time to gel together and it is never truly clear if their chemistry works or not, but both put forward stellar performances as their characters arc throughout their emotional journey. The film is paced slowly and its sub ninety minute run time doesn’t allow for you to get bored or to develop the characters beyond the stereotypical. However each actor plays their part competently, Fassbender once again being relatable, calm and memorable, while Smit-McPhee encapsulates the wide eyed love lorn puppy dog his character is presented as.
Slow West is a visual treat, its New Zealand shot landscape is as much a character as the actors in the film. It is believable as 1870’s America and gives much life to the film. We have seen this plot play out before, but it is done competently here, Fassbender is fun and Smit-McPhee is a talent to watch, the dialogue is engaging and used well. It won’t rattle the classic western genre but Slow West is a competent entry and enjoyable for its artistry and vision.