After a long hiatus, Western’s seem to be coming back into our cinemas. While some like The Lone Ranger have been shameless cash-ins, others like Salvation have been critical successes. Will Slow West, the newest entry into the Western genre, be one of the latter, or will it fail to ignite audiences?
Slow West stars Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smitt-McPhee, Caren Pistorius and Ben Mendelsohn, with John MacLean both writing and directing. The story follows a young boy called Jay (Smitt-McPhee) as he travels from Scotland to the west of America to find his love Rose (Pistorius) when she flees for her life. On his way he encounters the dangerous Silas (Fassbender) and his old gang.
The set-up is one of the most basic of stories. It’s basically the one hundereth retelling of Romeo and Juliet, this time set in the Wild West. That Wild West (represented here by New Zealand) however is beautiful. Throughout the film our heroes and villains trek through several miles of desert and forest, so we see several stunning landscapes which are breathtaking. Credit is due to cinematographer Robbie Ryan for capturing these shots.
Slow West flips between the trek from east to west of America with Silas and Jay and then back to Scotland to Jay and Rose, their supposed blossoming relationship and the act that makes Rose flee along with her father. The back-story is interesting and engaging, before we are catapulted back to the main story. Even though flipping back to a “shameful escape” it’s an overused trope of storytelling, the Scottish seaside that we see is just like the New Zealand Wild West, beautiful and for a few moments, actually breathtaking.
The film is near silent most of the time, with only small interupptions by Kodi Smitt-McPhee which are soon silenced by a death stare given off by Michael Fassbender. For a time the film does starts to just feel like a travelogue of New Zealand with some period costumes thrown in, but what it is a build up to a final third act gun battle that is spectacular.
The final shootout is one of the most well directed shootouts I have seen since John Wick. With a contrast of wooden prairie houses, wheatfields, and wide open expanses all being used for the shootout and with none of them feeling out of place, and with five different parties playing a violent game of whack-a-mole in the wheatfield, it’s a memorable scene to watch. It’s even at moments bloody, with gaping bullet wounds adorning both our heroes and villains. There is even a small little Star Wars reference with the last kill. Once we have our last man/woman standing, we get a run-down of all the bodies left in the wake of not just the final shootout, but all of the unattended and unburied bodies that have been littered throughout the film, from the final scene to the very first. it’s a solemn reminder of the bloody death that the Wild West will deliver you if you are not alert.
The film is as the name implies, a slow build, and this is where some of the audience might be left in wanting. At 84 minutes, the film is pretty short for most cinema releases, but with only the final ten minutes being the pay off for over an hour of build up, some audience members might feel cheated. This isn’t your old-skool John Wayne style cowboy flick, or an irreverent Django Unchained style murder-fest. It’s a slow, artsy think piece with the trappings of cowboy stereotypes.
In summary, Slow West is a film that will not be for everyone. It’s slow pace, near mute characters and constant build up to the final scene will definitely alienate some viewers. But if you stick with it you will find one of the most artistically beautiful and best films of the year.
Score: 9/10 Destined to be a classic in the Western genre