Film Review: Slow West

Monday 21 March 2016 by

Slow West, Film, Wild West, Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee, John Maclean

Looking for a Wild West with a dose of the surreal? Try Slow West on for size. Starring Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee, it tells the story of a teenage boy travelling across America to find the love of his life, and who attracts the help of an outlaw.

The premise of the film is interesting – and it lives up to its name, with a snail-like plot and carefully drawn out scenes. Fassbender as outlaw Silas Selleck is moody, macabre and sharp-tongued, whilst Smit-McPhee as the whimsical, lovestruck Jay Cavendish is a light-hearted counterpoint. The pairing feels uncomfortable and unstable, often diverging from the expected path. The story seeks to be both a story about fellowship and also the perils of relying on anyone but yourself. The push-pull feel adds for the off-key sensation between the two.

There is something gleefully outlandish about the whole film – tense and twisty, with a Tarantino-like finale. It is surrealism with ultra-realism – absinthe and arrows, dry humour about Darwinism and the cynical expectation being met. I didn’t go in expecting to like this film, but there is something wry and enjoyable about it.

The pairing of Silas and Jay plays itself out in episodic sketches, each one connecting with the other to add a layer to their relationship. Silas’ secret is revealed early on, adding to the tiers of tension that writer-director John Maclean is offering, and giving Silas that ironical twist that Fassbender plays so well. Meanwhile Jay seems to regress – never actually learning anything, but instead unlearning all common sense the further West they travel. Even with Silas’ fatherly advice, he only travels in one direction; the wrong side of Darwinism.

The scenery is beautiful – filmed in New Zealand, it still gives a sense of wilderness, yet with the claustrophobia needed for the film. Even the final scenes – set in wide plains-like fields – feel narrowed down and small. The landscapes make for a simple backdrop against which this darkly comic, inevitable story is told.

Fassbender is absolutely worth every second of screen time, and Maclean’s writing is pinpoint accurate, without a wasted moment or unnecessary phrase to throw you out of the plot. It’s perfect Sunday-night viewing with a bowl of popcorn, just for its simplicity and honesty and beauty. An unusual, underrated film.

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