It’s the late 19th-century in the unsettled, and unsettling, American West. Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) has traveled from Scotland to America to find his true love, Rose (Caren Pistorius). He is accompanied by Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender), a bounty hunter adept at surviving in the untamed expanse that separates the two young lovers. Silas is not only a bodyguard for hire. The gunslinger has his own secret agenda, but I won’t reveal any more of the plot for fear of spoiling one of the many pleasures offered by Slow West, an indie Western written and directed by John Maclean.
Belying its title, Slow West moves at a brisk clip. Brief flashbacks fill in the history between Jay and Rose, changing our perception of their relationship with each unfolding scene. The film manages to tackle a number of Western tropes while presenting them in a fresh way: man versus nature, man versus man and the evil that men do when civilization is miles away. Character details and revelations are sprinkled into the action and conflict, giving Slow West a richness that is missing in so many modern attempts at the Western genre.
Michael Fassbender once again proves that he’s one of the most interesting actors in Hollywood. He can make serious indie dramas like Shame and 12 Years a Slave, or he can anchor a superhero franchise (X:Men: First Class/Days of Future Past). Although he can command a big paycheck, he appears to simply take projects that interest him. And his commitment to the work at hand, rather than box office performance, serves to elevate Slow West, as well. The film feels like a labor of love by Western enthusiasts for Western enthusiasts.
The cast features a wealth of stellar character actors. Ben Mendelsohn (Netflix’s Bloodline) plays Payne, a competing bounty hunter who may not subscribe to Silas’ agenda. Rory McCann (The Hound from HBO’s Game of Thrones) is Rose’s protective father. Throw in a preacher who carries a Sharps rifle, and the multi-cultural gang of killers traveling with Payne, and Slow West is populated by a unique, colorful group of supporting players.
For a number of years, the Western was deconstructed by filmmakers and used as a canvas for existential musing. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford being the creative peak of that school of filmmaking. So, it’s a breath of fresh air to see a Western that is more like the classic Westerns of old: love, death, and gunfights between men who believe in the righteousness of their causes. Slow West doesn’t sacrifice its intelligence for its thrills which makes it one of the more enjoyable trips to the theater of 2015.
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The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.