You don’t see a lot of Westerns in cinemas these days, but debuting director John Maclean is giving the genre a chance to make a comeback in his first feature-length film, Slow West. Set in 19th Century frontier America, when cowboys and American Indians were at each other’s throats, this film sees 16-year-old Scotsman, Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) traversing the barren land to find his lost love Rose (Caren Pistorius). But the wild West is a dangerous place to be, and Jay soon learns that there are no laws when it comes to survival, so he quickly enlists the help of mysterious and seasoned traveler, Silas (Michael Fassbender). Silas is adamant that Jay needs chaperoning if he is to make it safely through this harshenvironment, but this horseman has a secret motive for sticking so close to Jay’s side.
Meanwhile, a gang of bounty hunters are hot on Jay and Silas’s trail, in the hope that they will lead them right to their prize: Rose and her father, who are wanted – dead or alive – for the hefty sum of $2000. It’s a plot that screams old Western, but this time around there’s a contemporary spin that makes Slow West a very compelling and quirky ride with an action-packed finale.
One of the greatest things about this film is that it’s unlike anything I’ve seen before, and completely sets itself apart from modern story trends. It is a little offbeat, a little peculiar, very funny at times and a little bit dark, but you can’t help but enjoy what is playing out in front of you. This is largely due to the fabulous direction from first-time feature filmmaker John Maclean, who gives this unconventional story and equally eccentric look and feel. Couple that with near seamless performances from the entire cast, including Aussie representatives Ben Mendelsohn and the young and uber-talented Kodi Smit-McPhee, who is lovable beyond belief. Michael Fassbender is unwavering in his portrayal of the hardened cowboy Silas, while lesser known New Zealand actor Caren Pistorius is stunning in the role of Rose. On top of all this, add some beautiful locations that are captured magnificently by cinematographer Robbie Ryan, and you should be on to a winner, right?
And yet, even with all that going for it, I couldn’t get completely on board with this movie. For such a short run-time (a mere 84 minutes), the beginning of the film does move a little slowly, and from there things just get more and more bizarre. To be quirky is one thing, but at times the oddness went a little too far for my taste and the almost cartoon-ish quality to the film – while giving the story a lot of life and character – also forced scenes to the point of being too far fetched to believe.
Yet, you have to commend Slow West for its utter uniqueness, and overall it is actually a very engaging film to watch. Clever, original and humorous, this is definitely one to check out.