John Maclean’s feature length debut is a road movie. A young Scottish man, determined to get across America to find the woman he loves, is joined by a mysterious, ruthless loner who takes on the role of his mentor, guide and protector. Nobody knows who to trust and everyone’s intentions are questionable. Slow West is about a journey and a great love. Flashbacks occasionally give some perspective on the situations in hand but for the most part Slow West builds in tension and wit to an operatic, violent finale. It’s a frank, blunt, dark take on the Western genre with some straight faced performances from Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Everything about Slow West feels incredibly cynical. It left others in the screening I attended quite unsettled and turned off. I warmed to its black humour and unusual mixture of romance, violence and the Southern Gothic. The central, confrontational duo find themselves in the run from bounty hunters who are never far away. Slow West gradually lets you into the history of its main characters whilst also maintaining its mystery. Fassbender is perfectly comfortable in this type of role, showing off his gruffness and rougher edges.
Kodi Smit-McPhee proves once again that he can adapt to unconventional surroundings. He maintains the vulnerability and the “just below the surface” passion and loneliness which we’re used to seeing him portray. His Scottish accent is less convincing. Well cast and slightly absurd, Slow West will find its rightful audience but certainly isn’t for everyone or even for fans of the classic Westerns of yesteryear. It’s a whimsical, metaphorical historical story about love, sacrifice and determination. Following in the footsteps of the likes of The Proposition, True Grit and Django Unchained but failing to capture the real spirit of a nostalgic genre, Slow West certainly has attitude but perhaps not quite enough character. It looks good and sounds great but isn’t particularly memorable. Still it’s a first attempt from a new director and shows great promise. It’s a tough film to review for some wildly unknown reason. Its cinematography is its most valuable feature. This is a visceral world in which you can sense that the knives are sharp and the guns fully loaded. Perhaps too heavily inspired by a mixture of other things, Slow West loses its own voice somewhere along the way. It’s mildly pleasing and at times very funny but doesn’t leave much of a mark.
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