A young Scottish man, Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), is making his way west across America, pursuing the woman he loves who has fled their homeland after an accident he feels responsible for. The naïve Cavendish finds a guide and companion in the mysterious and world-weary Silas (Michael Fassbender) who has agreed to chaperone him across the country to find his love. Unbeknownst to Cavendish however there is a $2,000 bounty on his beloved and, as Silas explains “that type of money usually attracts undesirables”.
In his feature film debut writer/director John Maclean (most commonly know as member of the Scottish group The Beta Band) crafts a brilliantly executed western that contains a key element that has been missing from recent forays into the genre, humour. While it’s not an overpowering presence there is an undercurrent of dark comedy that runs constantly throughout the piece injecting a lightness into both the characters and the story which is a welcome relief in a genre that usually takes itself way too seriously. Combining this with the unusual and beautiful shot compositions provided cinematography by Robbie Ryan, “Slow West” proves to be one of the most unique and original westerns to hit screens in years.
The story that Maclean tells with the film is a relatively simple one (an innocent man in search of his lost love in a foreign land) but it’s the characters he and his cast create that make it an interesting one. The wide-eyed innocence that Smit-McPhee instils in Cavendish shows the talent of a young actor with range who is more than ready to move on from the parts an actor of his age is usually is saddled with. Both Fassbender as the morally ambiguous Silas and Ben Mendelson as Payne, the evil bounty hunter pursuing the pair, are chewing the scenery here and loving every second of it. It’s great to see two character actors have fun with genre characters, never letting them fall into the usual tropes, and deliver such fully realized performances with the little dialogue and story elements they have to work with.
While it doesn’t break any new ground in terms of its narrative, the films light tone and desire to never take itself too seriously coupled with its strong characters and beautiful cinematography all help elevate “Slow West” well above the majority of films in the modern western genre.
7.5 out of 10.
Reviewed by Chris Swan.