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Slow West Review


While it may not be as prevalent as it once was, the Western refuses to go away. It’s genre that has evolved in the face of its waning popularity, clear cut battle of white hats against the back hats giving way to an entire deconstruction of the genre, and now recent years have seen a rise in movies celebrating the Western, from the knowing homage of Django Unchained or a loving tribute in the vain of The Salvation. Now, John McLean wades in with his directorial debut, Slow West, taking the spirit of the genre and giving it a spin all this own.

A founding member of Scottish experimental musical group The Beta Band, McLean’s breaths an air of the eccentric into the familiar tale of Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit McPhee), a young immigrant who has travelled from “the cold shoulder of Scotland to the baking heart of America” in search of his love, Rose (Caren Pistorius). Way out of his depth (his horse is laden down with family heirlooms and the Guide for Dummies-esque tome Ho! For The West), Jay is soon joined by drifter Silas (Michael Fassbender), who offers to ferry Jay to his lady love, for a price. But Silas knows something  Jay doesn’t: Rose and her father (The Hound himself, Rory McCann) have a considerable bounty on their head, one Silas, and the gang of outlaws, led by Silas’s former friend Payne (Ben Mendelsohn, sporting an exceptionally extravagant fur coat), following them, intends to collect.

Much like its title suggests, Slow West is a slow burn, one that is incredibly rewarding once we reach the end of its lean 84 minute run time. McLean, also script writer here, had a story to tell, and he tells it wonderfully. There is no meta commentary here, this a tale of the west, pure and simple. There is not much romanticism either, as we’re shown time and time again that life in the Frontier was tough. Death could come at anytime, and it would come quickly. Every interaction, every line of dialogue, is just one piece of the puzzle, and everything is constructed perfectly. Fassbender is in classic cowboy mode, but he adds a lot of charm to the role, defusing any tense situation with a wry smile, cigar permanently fixed between his teeth. He and Smit McPhee prove to be an immensely likable partnership, sparking of each other nicely, and the young actor continues to build on the promise shown all those year ago in The Road, Jay growing in front of our eyes, the innocent, inexperienced boy becoming a full fledged man by the time credits role.

With New Zealand effortlessly standing in for Colorado (some of the shots here are stunningly beautiful), there is a generous helping of melancholy to Jay and Silas’s story as their long journey stretches out ahead of them, but McLean injects proceedings with pitch black humour that further diffuses any romantic notion cultivated by old school westerns. One person dies as his pants are yanked down to his ankles, his arse hanging out for all the world to see long after he has shuffled the mortal coil, and, in one deliciously dark moment of slapstick, salt is literally rubbed in someones wound. This only furthers the enjoyment of Slow West as not your average Western.

Comparisons can be made to The Coen Brothers, but at the end of the day, this is all John McLean, and with Slow West he has delivered one hell of a calling card, a wonderfully striking and irreverent addition to the Western genre.

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The Movie Bit: Slow West Review
Slow West Review
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