Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Slow West Review

Slow West (2015)
Dir. John Maclean
Staring Micheal Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorius

In 1800s Colorado, young Scottish immigrant Jay Cavendish (Smit-McPhee) receives the aid of bounty hunter Silas (Fassbender) while journeying to find his love Rose (Pistorius).

Slow West is the first film from director John Maclean, a former member of the Beta Band, who has only 2 other short films to his credit. He directs the film in a way that makes it feel like a less cutesy version of what would happen if Wes Anderson made a western. Maclean directs the film witha quick, light feel that just causes it to just breeze by. The real stand outs for this film are cinematographer Robbie Ryan and production designer Kim Sinclair. The film is beautifully shot, with the New Zealand locations looking incredible on screen. Costumes and sets have a huge lived in look, with makes the film feel real, which helps ground the film and natural. It is one of the best looking film that I have seen in a long time. The film is very episodic, and I would've liked a little more with the 2 main characters having more random encounters. The scene at the trading post was very tense and entertaining, and the movie felt very lived in, like there were more adventures going on between the scenes with the leads and the other characters that they came across. The movie isn't an adventure film, it is more a coming of age film in an humorous absurd western setting. I liked the way the movie told the back-story of the romance of Jay and Rose (Pistorius) through various flashbacks rather than an expository info dump, and they had a sense of tragedy to them (which hammered in by having her refer to Jay as Romeo and quote the play).

Michael Fassbender is great in the film. His Silas is the complete opposite of Jay, and he brings a lot of cool charisma to the role that Jay describes as a "brute". Fassbender is one of the best actors working today, and it is really interesting to see what roles he chooses, jumping between huge mega-budget pictures like the X-Men films, prestige films like 12 Years a Slave, and smaller budget films like this and Shame. His Silas has a very cool feel in the same way that most Steve McQueen characters felt. He is also very weary and pessimistic, and it feels realistic given the brief history of the character that you learn during the film. He also has some great chemistry with his co-lead, Kodi Smit-McPhee. They blend well together, which is good because the film would not work if the combination didn't. His Jay is a well read, hopeful, romantic and optimistic, only imagining a perfect ending between him and Rose. Their back-story is told through flashbacks, and ti  Smit-McPhee's youthful look is a huge benefit to the character, giving him both a naive quality when he has to take his first life, and then is remorseful face afterwards. But he is a character defined by his optimism, which is undeterred even after he has to contend with some of the obstacles that Silas warns about and was partially responsible for Silas's jaded outlook. Ben Mendelsohn has probably the most fun role in the movie as the bad bounty hunter Payne. He gets the showy role where he gets the fill the film with charming menace, and he's an interesting contrast to Silas.

This is an amazing film, beautifully shot and packed with interesting characters. I could of watched more of Jay and Silas wandering through the west having encounters, and my only complaint is that there wasn't more of that. But do not let the films short running time dissuade you from seeing it. But taken as it is, Slow West is an incredible film, and one of the best westerns to come out in recent years, and not one to be ignored. The film is worth watching for Michael Fassbender's cool performance. Slow West is currently playing select theaters and is also available on various Video on Demand platforms. I highly recommend seeking this film out, however you are able to.

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