There is nothing quite like the kind of unexpected delight that can happen in a movie theatre when a film takes you by surprise. That feeling of pleasured content as the lights brighten and credits roll is, due to aggressive marketing campaigns and timid storytelling, increasingly and unfortunately uncommon. But Slow West did it for me, and I think it will do it for you, too.
The film centers on a young man, Jay, (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who has traveled from Scotland to the American west in search of his love. He meets a bounty hunter named Silas (Michael Fassbender) who agrees to chaperon him, for a price.
The best I can say about it is that it feels like the neo-western fairy tale lovechild of Shakespeare, the Coens, and Frederico Fellini. It is at times inviting, quirky, sterile, metaphysical, detached, surreal, innocent, and charming. All of that isn't to say that it can simply be boiled down into some weird art movie or that it has no focused tone. Writer-director John Maclean balances all of these disparate elements with a high level of compassionate humanity that helps the story resonate, even as it jars you a little with its next sometimes strange turn.
While Fassbender, as usual, gives us another fine performance, the film really belongs to Kodi Smit-McPhee. He becomes our idealistic (if a little foolhardy) eyes in a West that is without hope or balance. He accepts everything, a kind of non-filter through which we process this new world. And it does feel new. As far as I know, it is the first western to be shot in New Zealand, and it just feels subtly, though pervasively, different from westerns shot here. In that sense it has the same foreign quality as the Italian "spaghetti" westerns, only it has traded their forbidding aridity for high-altitude aspen groves and musings about love.
So I say, go see it. It is a film with an accessibly unique voice, and a welcome change of pace if you suffer from blockbuster fatigue.
Slow West features Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Caren Pistorius and Ben Mendelsohn, and is rated R for gun shooting and some swears.
Written and directed by John Maclean
Ignore the Wild Wild West-like music in the trailer. Don't worry, it's not in the movie.
by Chase Harrison