Overview: In 1800s Colorado, a naive Scottish teenager enlists the help of a rough and tumble bounty hunter while searching for his lover. A24 Films. 2015. 84 Minutes.
The Lover: First things first: as of now, in spite of their uncanny physical resemblance, there exists no evidence that Kodi Smit-Mcphee and Jay Baruchel are related. Or that they are the same person. I feel it necessary to introduce this sentence to the internet as it was a concern that impeded my first few minutes with Slow West and afterward, Google search offered no direct answers. Now, that taken care of, we can note that either, but in particular McPhee, would be a strange choice to cast at the center of a brutal, bullet-riddled Western. The timidity and awkwardness in Smit-McPhee’s natural expression and physique lend to a preconception that his introduction into a traditional Western would make for a short-lived character. As Jay Cavendish, though, his sore-thumb fit is functional to an enhanced cinematic Western experience. The presence of a starry-eyed and refined budding gentleman allows for the screen to pursue investigative directions that a film with exclusively hardened characters might not be afforded. With Cavendish serving as the rare beating heart of a Western, Writer/Director John Maclean is freed to pursue narrative and aesthetic curiosity while not having to sacrifice his right to genre-typical ruthless villains or rugged anti-heroes.
The Hunter and The Hunter’s Hunters: Michael Fassbender is good. He’s just really, really good. Even when Slow West wanders too freely from his character, Fassbender, as bounty hunter Silas Sellick, makes the most of his shortchanged screentime. His turn here lacks the searing intensity of some of his more incendiary and celebrated roles, but his ability to color his character with a history of hidden details is fascinating. And any fan of the acting craft should be delighted to hear that Slow West pits Fassbender against the equally admirable Ben Mendehlson. When it becomes apparent that Maclean’s film is using its genre influence to deconstruct the romanticism of the West as a concept and the Western as a genre, there may be a little disappointment, given what a more focused traditional narrative and climax might have permitted these two pitted performers.
The World: The small flare-up of revitalized interest in the Western genre has allowed the landscape to be revisited with modern filmmaking technology. Slow West, as much as any recent film, documents the geographic beauty of America. With an eye for natural geometry, cinematography Robbie Ryan captures a serene, sun-blonde landscape and luminescent nighttime dreamscape that serves as bold counter-setting to the story’s more carnal and violent intent.
Overall: Traditional Western fans may be disappointed by the movie’s ironic departure from formula and ironic movie fans might be disappointed by the film’s adherence to formula, but with a little negotiation from the viewer, Slow West stands as its own rewarding and enjoyable work.