Cinema Review: Slow West | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, September 26th, 2023  

Slow West

Studio: A24
Directed by John Maclean

May 13, 2015 Web Exclusive
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Jay Cavendish is a dapper young Scottish man braving the wilds of the American West with a single purpose: reuniting with Rose Ross, the love of his life and a fugitive from justice. On his journey he partners with Silas, a mercurial bounty hunter with an agenda all his own.

The latest release from A24, the company behind Under The Skin, Obvious Child, A Most Violent Year and numerous other recent, critically acclaimed gems, Slow West is an ideal fit for their well-curated catalog; an off-beat genre exercise and a strange film no matter how you slice it. It’s an odd debut film for director John Maclean (former keyboardist of The Beta Band), not only a Western–a genre that hasn’t been lucrative or popular in decades–but a whimsical one at that. In a genre known for it’s grimness and sprawl, Slow West features a plucky, optimistic protagonist and a simple narrative that wraps in eighty short minutes.

Like most modern Westerns, Slow West goes out of its way to deflate the tropes of yesteryear. The tough, mysterious gunslinger is a directionless drifter who mostly gets by on luck. The vicious band of outlaws is a cartoonish motley of women, old men and children. The epic final shootout is a messy, inelegant affair that borders on farce. What Maclean brings to this deconstruction is a bucolic sweetness and a cruel sense of humor that clash with varying degrees of success. Influenced as much by Wes Anderson as by Sergio Leone, Maclean keeps his frames colorful and precise, transforming the forests and plains of New Zealand into a dreamy facsimile of the American West. The genre is often presented as myth; this is the Western as fairy tale.

Maclean’s sharp visual sense, however, does not always extend to his script. Saddled with some extremely unnecessary voiceover and some self-important, pseudo-philosophical dialogue, the first act of the film may strike some as overly precious, even twee. Thankfully, the cast is up to the challenge, particularly two of the most talented character actors to find success in the last few years. As the respective anti-hero and villain of the piece, Michael Fassbender and Ben Mendelsohn seem to have sprung from the ground as their characters, sharing an uncanny knack for making intensity look effortless. New Zealand native Caren Pistorius also makes a memorable impression in the small but unconventional role of Rose. The closest thing to a weak link, oddly, is the lead. As Jay, Kodi Smit-McPhee is arguably too successful in portraying Jay as a ineffectual, impossibly frail greenhorn hopelessly out of his depth. Despite being the impetus of the action, the film seems to progress in spite of him. Given the film’s final take on romance and the promise of America, perhaps that’s the point.

Author rating: 7/10

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