Set in 19th Century Colorado but undeniably European in sensibility, Slow West tells the story of sixteen-year-old Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as he travels from Scotland to the Colorado in pursuit of his lost love. He is quickly confronted by the dangers of the Frontier and so teams up with a mysterious traveller named Silas (Michael Fassbender), who agrees to protect him - for a price. Jay's quest will be one of double-crossing, violence and peril as the guileless adolescent learns that the West takes no pity, least of all on the innocent.
Review by Louise Keller:
There's a distinctive mood that reverberates throughout this intriguing western, whose straight-ahead narrative is contrasted by the offbeat characters that appear unexpectedly along the way. It's a simple story, simply told and John Maclean's debut feature is effective in that it manages to hone down on life's fundamental truths without being bogged down by earnestness. Black humour tinges the edges of the film's sensibilities, while two strong central performances keep our focus. Driving the narrative is a love story; the blinkered dreamer protagonist (superbly played by Kodi Smit-McPhee) is oblivious to the dangerous realities, while his cynical guide (Michael Fassbender) discovers his bounty is not necessarily the one he seeks.
It is 1870 in Colorado, and Fassbender's voiceover sets the scene, explaining when he first set eyes on Jay (Smit-McPhee), a young Scot in search of Rose (Caren Pistorius), the girl from home who has stolen his heart. The reasons that have brought Rose and her father (Rory McCann) to the New World are not clear at first, but Silas (Fassbender) has his hopes set on the $2,000 bounty offered for the father and daughter - dead or alive. Jay is his ticket to the bounty - leading him to Rose, the beauty who doesn't waste words.
Shot in New Zealand, with its stunning vistas and a sense of being in no-man's land, Jay and Silas stumble into one situation after another meeting diverse characters. This is what happens as they head towards the little weatherboard house where Rose and her father are holed up. There are the African musicians, a general store-keeper, a desperate Swedish man and a gun-wielding priest. Stand out is Ben Mendelsohn as Payne, whose statement fur coat almost has a life of it's own. Watch for the scene in which he appears with two glasses and a bottle of Absinthe. It's bleakly amusing. As is the hangover that follows. Silas and Payne have a history together, which alerts us to the cowboy instincts required for survival in the west.
Jay's innocence and gaze upon life through rose-coloured glasses appears to have an impact on the worldly Silas; the way Silas becomes Jay's minder and teacher is quite endearing. The scene in which Silas teaches the youngster how to shave by using a sharp knife tells us a lot about him. Violence is depicted in a no-nonsense fashion: statement-like, devoid of sentimentality or emphasizing the gruesome. There's a sense of motion throughout and by the film's end, several distinctive lessons have been learned - the dreamer is not the only one to be initiated.
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SLOW WEST (M)
CAST: Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn, Rory McCann, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alex Macqueen, Brooke Williams
PRODUCER: Iain Canning, Rachel Gardner, Conor McCaughan, Emile Sherman
DIRECTOR: John Maclean
SCRIPT: John Maclean
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robbie Ryan
EDITOR: Roland Gallois, Jon Gregory
MUSIC: Jed Kurzel
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kim Sinclair
RUNNING TIME: 84 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 4 (part of Sydney Film Festival Presents season)