Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Slow West

Ah, Westerns! I bloody love ‘em. Despite their often repetitive narratives and iconography, there’s something about them that I find irresistible, with Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad & The Ugly and Once Upon A Time In The West among my favourite films of all time. So, I always jump at the opportunity to watch a new, contemporary one and see if they add anything new to the genre. More often than not, they don’t. But sometimes, a rare one comes along that does something fresh and stylish that makes the Western-lover in me sing. John Maclean’s latest does just that.  


Directed by John Maclean and out now on DVD & Blu-Ray comes Slow West, a love letter to Westerns of days of yore. Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Jay Cavendish, a young man travelling across the Wild West looking for his love who has gone on the run with her father after an accidental murder. Along the way, he encounters Silas (Michael Fassbender), a bad-ass bounty hunter who agrees to protect him on his travels and serve as his guide. The narrative feels quite True Grit, in that it concerns a young person teaming up with an older and more experienced ‘cowboy’ in pursuit of someone. But Slow West is more about style than plot.


Slow West has been labelled many things, but the label that rings true for me is ‘the lovechild of Wes Anderson and the Coens’. Instead of a wide aspect ratio as you might find in a Sergio Leone or a John Ford Western of the 1960s, Slow West is framed in a narrow 1.66:1 ratio. This gives a greater intimacy to the proceedings and also allows for some breathtakingly gorgeous cinematography from Robbie Ryan. The colour palette is among the most beautiful I’ve seen in recent years and it would be a crime to not experience it on Blu-Ray. Every shot in Slow West is a work of art, waiting to be framed on the wall of some Cinematography Museum! A wonderful score from Jed Kurzel (who recently scored Michael Fassbender-starring Macbeth) adds to the immense style here and creates a viewing experience unlike any other Western of recent years.

Michael Fassbender delivers one of his finest and most relaxed performances here as the cigar-chomping Silas, continuing to cement his place as one of my favourite actors of today. He seems right at home in this genre too, so here’s hoping we’ll see him in the Wild West again sometime. Kodi Smit-McPhee, the little boy from 2009’s The Road, has grown up fast and delivers a fine performance here as the love-struck and determined Jay. Despite a strong supporting cast including Ben Mendelsohn, Rory McCann and Caren Pistorius; Slow West is really a buddy movie. Like the similar True Grit, Slow West is all about the relationship between young and old. Fassbender and Smit-McPhee have superb chemistry throughout and make this relationship work with both drama and subtle comedy.

Despite clocking in at only 75-80 minutes, Slow West has lived up to its title for some viewers. Some have complained that the films pace and quiet delivery is tedious and, as one review states, ‘insufferable’. Slow West isn’t your average action-packed Western, nor is it really (for lack of a better word) mainstream. It is an artistic film from an artistic director, who has worked with Fassbender on multiple short films before this. The cinematography, long shots and slow-moving narrative have put a lot of people off and a very small theatrical release has stopped Slow West from earning a particularly big audience up to now. But I’m here to tell you Slow West is a bloody good film and one that I whole-heartedly recommend.


Ultimately, yes, Slow West is arty. It’s different. But that’s what cinema needs. In 2015, the year of reboots, remakes and sequels, a film like Slow West is a blessing. Fassbender and Smit-McPhee shine in the lead roles and the film’s style is unparalleled. Beautiful, dark, violent and often funny; Slow West is one of the finest films of the year.

Slow West earns a solid bounty of 5/5.

★★★★★

Sam Love


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