Review: Slow West Doesn’t Shy Away From The Reality Of The Frontier
Title: Slow West
Director: John Maclean
Screenwriter: John Maclean
Principal Cast: Kod Smi-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn, Rory McCann, and Caren Postorius
Summary: Slow West follows a 16-year-old boy on a journey across 19th Century frontier America in search of the woman he loves, while accompanied by mysterious traveler Silas.
Slow West was a screening at Sundance (this is very late posting so the movie is actually coming out) and I wasn’t sure I was going to see it. However, buzz is quite an amazing thing and it was near the end of the festival that I decided to see if I could snag a ticket to a screening up in Park City since I missed the critic screening, and was fortunate enough to get in. The wait list line was very long and the movie went on to win an award. It’s getting a limited release this week and is also available On Demand.
Slow West is a western in every sense of the world with its slow pace and random bursts of violence, but it showcases what a great actor Kodi Smit-McPhee is.
There are certain thing one needs to accept when going into movies of a certain genre. If someone goes into the latest disaster movie and says that there wasn’t enough room for character development they’re going to look very silly. This is something to take into account when you watch something like Slow West which wears its genre right in the title. I heard some people walk out of the screening complaining about it being too slow. I’m going to say that most of this movie is watching Smit-McPhee’s Jay Cavendish and Michael Fassbender’s Silas Selleck travel across the frontier. There is always violence that tend to litter the western genre but it’s nothing compared to something like Django Unchained. The slow pace worked for me and we really get a feeling for Jay as a character.
Silas, however, doesn’t get much room to evolve. He starts off the movie helping Jay for money and eventually moves to helping him out of sympathy for his mission to find his beloved. Despite that it felt like Silas didn’t get nearly the character development that he could have had. The other thing the movie really feels like it lacks is a prime antagonist. Ben Mendelsohn is about as close as we get to one, but the bounty hunter feels more like an obstacle than a real villain. The real villain in this movie turns out to be the passage of time and ignorance. Jay is very naive and the movie is eighty four minutes of him losing that naivety but it almost feels like it’s too much, too late. Caren Pistorius spends most of the movie in the background and is seen only in flashbacks from Jay’s point of view. He idolizes her so much that she doesn’t feel like a character which makes it all the better when we finally meet her.
The ending is what really cemented this movie for me. Director and writer John Maclean does a great job of capturing the essence of the frontier and the various dangers that come with it. The movie is littered with beautiful wide shots of the world around Jay and Silas, and he makes sure to show that there are consequences for going around shooting off guns. He doesn’t shy away from the violence of the frontier, completely disregarding any idealization of the cowboy from the media. The ending does an even better of revealing that as it completely upends our expectations of what we think a love story is supposed to be. I give the cast a lot of credit for selling the final scenes as well as they did.
Slow West will be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys the detached sensibility of the Coen Brothers as they approach something as revered and loved by people as the “good ol’e west” and deconstructs it for what it really was. It’s a beautiful and well acted film that really shows that Kodi Smit-McPhee is here to stay as an adult, and Michael Fassbender can capture an audience’s attention with very few lines and dark looks. It might be a little slow for those looking for an action movie, but if character pieces and an easy going pace are something you enjoy then Slow West is a movie you should look into.