Slow West is a brilliant western and American tale of revenge, action, love, and greed, all wrapped up by a brilliant script that explores its environment. Despite the oddness of the events, and the overall absurdity of the film, the film succeeds at being unique in its presentation and subtle in its theme.
Set in the American west, the film follows the story of the 16-year-old Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who travels across the frontier to escape his past and find his true love Rose (Caren Pistorius). On his travels, Jay’s life is saved by the troubled traveler Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender), who accompanies the boy on his journey. While their relationship is strained, the two must join forces to escape the grasps of the eccentric bounty hunter Payne (Ben Mendelsohn).
Though Slow West takes the plot of a normal western, it’s an interesting study of the American dream, life and death, and the nature of man. These themes are touched upon throughout the film, either through direct statements in dialogue or imagery, but are never obliviously used. In fact, the film’s study of life adds a sense of absurdity and sureeality to the entire film, but its characters and plot tie the themes together, and help avoid the threat of inconsitency.
Much of this can be attributed to the film’s writer/ director John Maclean, who uses an intriguing visual style to make the film unique. The film almost feels like a fairy tale in its style and cinematography, but is etched in dark comedy, which makes for a more enjoyable experience, and also justifies the film’s strangeness. Maclean takes the film as serious, but not literal, which adds a mystery to the entire film.
The excellent performances also serve as a reason the film succeeds. Kodi Smit-McPhee delivers a breakout performance, and perfectly captures the innocence found in the character of Jay, but also does a great job showing the character’s development over the course of the film. Additionally, he gives the film an emotional element that pulls in the audience, but also helps drive the plot.
Accompanying Smit-McPhee is an excellent performance by Michael Fassbender, who’s standout work here is evident of his stature of one of the industry’s finest actors. Fassbender nails the role of Silas, perfectly combining the off-kilter father figure with the role of an experienced traveler. His role seamlessly weaves between comedy, drama, and adventure, feeling natural as a realistic character, as well as one that could exist in this extravagant film.
The film’s runtime is an extremely brief 84 minutes, and is completely justified. The story is told, explained, and given depth, but never drags for a moment and tells much in it’s short length. Additionally, Robbie Ryan’s cinematography gives it the feel of a sweeping epic, but also an understated character drama. Jed Kurzel also adds to the film with a beautiful score, which adds a beauty to the dirty, dangerous world that has been created.
Slow West is certainly not for everyone, and it many easily bore or confuse an average audience member, but for film fans it’s a perfectly crafted film that delivers on every level. There’s a sense of wonder and delight in each scene, and though it’s hard to completely understand thematically, the story proves entertaining enough for an exciting and thrilling ride. Grade: -A