Slow West (2015 Sundance)

9 Feb

A 19th century western set in the great nation of New Zealand? Sure, why not? Slow West tells the story of Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Rose (Karen Pistorius), two lovers separated by tragic circumstances. Jay, a proper british aristocrat decides he will journey solo out west in order to be reunited with his true soulmate. What he doesn’t know is that he isn’t the only one looking for Rose, as she is wanted by the law and has a large bounty on her head.  Michael Fassbender plays Silas, a lone wolf frontiersman who agrees to help escort Jay to California – for a price of course. Along the way the duo runs into thier fair share of obstacles, treacherous characters and drunken adventures.

It’s a small-scale indie film, but there is still a quality to Slow West that makes it feel like a full blown epic. We see our heros traverse a wide array of terrain that only New Zealand can offer – from harsh desert landscapes to wheat fields so picturesque they’re surreal – and every frame is shot in vivid detail from cinematographer Robbie Ryan (Philomena, Fish Tank).  Fassbender is great as always, and he totally dissolves into his machismo mountain-man character. Smit-McPhee is different. Playing the brooding and plain-faced adolescent, he never is quite expressive enough to convincingly play the part; you get a sense Smit-McPhee was cast more for his eye candy appeal than his dramatic chops. Thankfully, most of the film he keeps to himself and lets Fassbender do all the talking.

In the way of narrative, Slow West is fairly simple film that borrows heavily on various genre influences. You get an adventurous touch of Sergio Leone mixed in with the revenge tendencies of Tarantino, peppered with some Coen-esc dark comedy.  These elements work great individually, but as a sum total of its parts, Slow West should be more impressive than it actually is. At a tidy 84 minutes, however, there isn’t much to be complain about, and the film’s latter half far outshines its monotonous first.

Bottom Line: Though it falls short of the epic masterpiece it’s pretenses would suggest, Slow West still provides a wonderful journey for audiences and a much-needed revision to the western genre.


Rating: 7/10 

Similar to: True Grit (2010), The Assassination of Jesse James (2007),  Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013) 

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