Slow West is the directorial début of former The Beta Band member John Maclean. It’s a slow-building, contemplative, occasionally philosophical – and yet still violent – western mixed with coming of age story.
Jay (an unconvincing Kodi Smit-McPhee) plays a young Scots man newly arrived at the frontier looking to find his childhood sweetheart Rose (Pistorious), oblivious to the fact that her and her father (Rory “The Hound” McCann) have a pricey bounty on their heads. Silas (Fassbender; fitting right into the nineteenth century frontier) who lives ‘on the edges of the law’ sees the opportunity to make money off of the stranger by agreeing to escort him across Colorado to Rose, at a price, and then claim the bounty for himself. But the pair are inadvertently leading a gaggle of bounty-hunters (including an unusually restrained Ben Mendelsohn) right to her.
At 84 minutes Slow West may appear slight, but it’s perfectly weighted, Maclean taking not a minute more or less than he needs to. A thick vein of dark humour runs through events, peppering an otherwise forgettable script (also written by Maclean)
Jay’s coming of age is treated with an almost dreamlike quality from the beautifully shot and framed landscape (actually shot on location in New Zealand) to the soundtrack that is more airy and fanciful than what you might typically expect from a western.
It ends, predictably in a mass shootout, and here Maclean proves adept at mixing drama, action, humour and character moments in an excellently put together sequence.
The Verdict: On the whole Slow West is an encouraging start to Maclean’s directing career. While it’s not thoroughly engaging and with a slight story it is a well assembled, assured first step and a fitting tribute to a genre and a time that was so near to our own and yet feels like another world. Or, in the words of a minor character, “In a short time, this will be a long time ago.”