“Slow West” tells the story of Jay Cavendish (played by Smit- McPhee), a Scottish aristocrat that travels to Colorado in search of his love Rose (played exquisitely by Caren Pistorius). Naïve and unprepared for what the American frontier has in store, he encounters and is saved by Silas Selleck (Fassbender), who joins him in his search.
Maclean, who writes and directs, passionately and unequivocally captures the time through the eyes of a young man. Remarkably determined, Maclean’s set up of his characters puts forth in motion, a tale of unrecounted love and self-discovery. Not always engaging with beats and character motivations, Maclean’s first time outing is an admirable achievement that provide a strong foundation for future endeavors. Cinematographer Robbie Ryan captures some beautiful imagery, a highlight of the year thus far. Not too many DP’s set up a boot so well to be looked upon with such elegance. Composer Jed Kurzel puts an enchanting and tantalizing score that stands tall as one of the film’s best attributes.
What the film does extremely well in Slow West is balance the western genre with a dry sense of humor. There are plenty of surprisingly funny moments in this film that help build the story. Through a series of fortunate (and misfortunate) events we follow these characters through their journey. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Michael Fassbender share strong chemistry together and keep us hooked during the slowly paced scene. Co-star Ben Mendelsohn, who continues to just shine in any role he’s given at this point, finds his stride with his limited screen time. Surprising, the most memorable player is Caren Pistorius as the beautiful Rose Ross. Not your traditional damsel in distress or one-dimensional female character, she finds a humanizing and bewildering soul to Rose that I’m not sure was originally intended by Maclean.
The film has a unique taste to it and some interesting characters, but the gorgeous cinematography is what stands out in this immense landscape. With the old 1:66.1 ratio, it feels like you are being sucked back in time to the westerns of the 60s. It’s only 84 minutes long, but it is a perfect fit for this movie which ends in memorable fashion. It took its time to grow on me, but the more I think about it the more I end up liking this film. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Western genre, and adding Michael Fassbender to that mix only makes this an even more rewarding experience.
Despite all the good things, there are some minor problems. There are strange unexpected shots in the film like a low angle to the sky where Jay aims his gun and makes the stars appear and weird episodes like Jay’s encounter with the travelling writer. Also bizarre is a dream sequence with Rose and a baby. While you appreciate the originality, it feels a bit lacking in purpose and meaning.
Overall “Slow West” is stylish and uses its gorgeous landscape very well (it was actually filmed in New Zealand), but it also includes a dreamy atmosphere and plenty of humor. While the ending doesn’t exactly scream earned or original, it’s a well-constructed piece that hawks back to films like “True Grit.” An hypnotic film.
Slow West gets an 7.9/10.