SLOW WEST (UK | New Zealand/15A/84mins)
Directed by John Maclean. Starring Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorius.
In the 19th century, a young man named Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) sets out from Scotland to travel across America and find the woman he loves. Along the way, he falls in with the mysterious outlaw Silas (Michael Fassbender) who agrees to help in on his journey, for a price.
THE VERDICT: Perhaps not as slow burning as the title might suggest, SLOW WEST is, nonetheless, a beautifully made film about tracking down love through a dangerous and ruthless world.
Kodi Smit-McPhee is strong as the quiet and lovelorn Jay, and his quiet determination, and his sense of justice are the backbone of the film. Michael Fassbender looks a tiny touch too modern for the role of Silas the outlaw, but he is strong, as usual, and brings gravitas to the film. There is a good contrast between the two that makes them watchable; Jay believes that the frontier is a place of hope and new life, whereas Silas has learned that it is a place where it is all too easy to die. Ben Mendelsohn brings the creepy and intimidating as Silas’s former friend Payne, and Caren Pistorius plays the love of Jay’s young life, Rose.
The story, written by John Maclean feels like a combination between a road movie and a morality tale. Almost everything that can go wrong does, and it is not always the moral that win the day. The dialogue is strong, and the connection between the characters works well, with everyone having an agenda, and double crossing one another.
As director, John Maclean – in his directorial debut – allows the tension in the film to ebb and flow. The audience is aware of what is at stake long before Jay is, and although it is clear that Silas is a man of dubious intent, there is a vein of empathy and morality in him that consistently shines through. The pacing of the film is well thought out – especially since the title almost serves as a warning – and the final set piece is a gritty Western joy, full of twists and turns.
In all, SLOW WEST contains strong performances from Fassbender and Smit-McPhee in this quiet but touching Western that is at once a road movie, a morality tale and an examination of hope and despair.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Slow West
Review by Brogen Hayes
4.0Touching Western
  • filmbuff2011

    Making his directorial debut, Scotsman John Maclean has fashioned an unlikely western from a foreigner’s point of view, in the same way that The Salvation did recently. Teenager Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) finds himself in the wild west, pursuing his beloved Rose (Caren Pistorius) who had to flee Scotland after a feud. The American plains seem like an unlikely place to be found, but trouble is coming her way. Jay is nearly killed by a bandit, but then he encounters drifter and gun-for-hire Silas (Michael Fassbender). Silas agrees to escort Jay through the wilderness and out west to where he thinks Rose might be hiding out. The older, more experienced Silas takes a liking to Jay and tries to prevent him from getting killed outright. If Jay can find Rose, will she be the same anymore? As with The Salvation, Slow West wasn’t filmed in America. It was actually filmed in New Zealand, giving it a slightly different visual look, but not one that would be out of place with the more traditional westerns. The location is a character in itself. The sense of danger just around the corner is certainly realised in a tense confrontation with some outlaws in a goods store. Then Maclean tries something unexpected at the end, ramming home the desperation and sadness with which death is dealt out like loose change in this world. Everyone has a price. Fassbender may not be the most obvious choice to play a cowboy, but he makes a welcome presence here, playing off McPhee in a father-son type way. Ben Mendelsohn pops up in a small but memorable role as a bounty hunter as well. Despite being a brief 84 minutes, the story does drag in spots to the point where you wish the film would really get going. That comes at the end though, with a violent and unexpectedly funny climax which reverses gender roles and doesn’t end in a typical fashion. Slow West isn’t going to knock Unforgiven off the barstool when it comes to great modern westerns, but it should sit comfortably at the lower end of the bar as a decent, mostly original take on a well-worn genre. ***

  • Clive Bower

    Fantastic Film , really ejoyed it . Pacing, music, acting and story all top notch . Check it out

  • emerb

    “Slow West”, the latest Western to hit the big screen is the directorial debut of John Maclean. Set in 19th century Colorado and filmed in New Zealand, it unfolds in the wake of the American Civil War and follows an unlikely a pair of
    travelling companions set off across the cruel and merciless wilderness in pursuit of land, money and love. It stars Kodi Smit-McPhee as a young Scotsman who’s made the journey to Colorado in search of his one true love and Michael
    Fassbender as his wily companion who turns out to be hunting the same girl but for very different reasons. Along the journey, they run into all manner of characters hailing for all sort sorts of places which makes for an entertaining and engaging odyssey. I thought John Maclean’s absorbing drama was impressively crafted, featured splendid acting and was nothing short of impressive.

    The film’s 16-year-old protagonist, a lovelorn teen, Jay Cavendish (Smit-McPhee), has journeyed from the Scottish Highlands to Colorado. The son of aristocrats, he is in romantic pursuit of a young crush from a more humble background named Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius) who has settled on the Plains in a cabin with her father John (Rory McCann). The backstory is gradually unfolded in a series of flashbacks which trace the beginnings of his attraction to Rose and the circumstances that led her and her father to flee to the New World.

    It’s a miracle that Jay has gotten this far – lanky, naïve, totally unprepared and alone in the wilderness. He gets an early taste of local barbarism when he runs into bounty hunters who wiped out and burned and Indian village. Fortunately, Jay is swiftly rescued by Silas Selleck (Fassbender), a mysterious, surly and monosyllabic outlaw who agrees to chaperone him safely in return for money. What Jay doesn’t realize is that Silas has deeper motives. A price has been put
    on Rose’s head and Silas is counting on his comrade to lead him straight to her.

    Once the pair team up, they set off through dazzling landscapes and encounter a number of obstacles along the way. They have a series of adventures with all manner of colourful characters – aimless wanderers, crooks and brutes. Amongst these are a small band of affable French-speaking Congolese musicians and at a general store, a tense confrontation with a desperate shotgun-wielding Swede and his wife who demand money to feed their family but pay with their lives. Further along, there are more unexpected meetings in store, chiefly with a gang of outlaws led by the sinister and unscrupulous Payne (Ben Mendelsohn), a fellow bounty hunter and an acquaintance of Silas who wears an enormous fur coat. The first time they meet, Payne is alone and the three get drunk, pass out and wake up in a torrential downpour. Payne has been hot on their trail with his bounty hunters and a face off is inevitable.

    The cast is solid all around. Fassbender is ready made for the role. Complete with his wide-brim hat, steely stare and hardened cynicism, he is an imposing and enigmatic presence. As their journey continues, the two men begin to develop a strong bond which is at the heart of the story. Fassbender is especially good at conveying a sense of Silas’s deepening protective instincts towards the young lad, particularly obvious in the in a teaching-the-lad-how-to-shave scene. Silas wants money but he’s not beyond making a friend too. Smit-McPhee serves as a nice foil projecting his naive uncertainty and good-natured innocence which is in stark contrast to the terse gruffness of Silas. Newcomer Caren Pistorious makes the most of her limited screentime and makes a lasting impression in all of her scenes – I loved watching her surprising expertise with a knife, Jay was going in way over his head! Mendelsohn gives a typically note perfect performance and while his role here is small, it’s excellent
    and I wish he had more time on screen with Fassbender.

    The cinematography is superb and the setting is beautiful. New Zealand easily passes for 19th Century Colorado. Shot with a remarkably keen eye by Robbie Ryan, the imagery is endlessly striking and gorgeous in the detail. He highlights the contrast between the savagery of the outlaws with the splendid natural surroundings. There are numerous memorable images – rivers, starscapes, now-capped mountain peaks.

    Unlike most Westerns, it is a brisk movie at 84 minutes and moves at a rather swift pace but this is just right for the particular blend of comedy, violence and cruelty which it combines. The dialogue throughout is sparse but meaningful. With “Slow West”, we don’t get a pure Western, it is a stylish and witty tweak on the genre and it blends a number of movie types — coming-of-age drama, romance, Western and adventure thriller. Rather than one big story, Maclean has meticulously constructed a series of intriguing sub stories leading to a powerful finale which ends the film in a whirlwind of absurd violence and mayhem – thrilling and explosive with an enormous body count. “Slow West” is a simple yet compelling story and Maclean is a very promising new talent.