First time writer/director John Maclean’s film is a brilliant addition to the Western genre with its qualities lying in writing, direction, acting and cinematography.
The film is stars Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Michael Fassbender (X-Men: Days of Future Past, 12 Years a Slave) and Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom, The Dark Knight Rises). The film tells the story of Jay Cavendish (McPhee) a young Scotsman who travels to the New World of America in search of his lost love Rose, along the way he meets bounty hunter Silas (Fassbender) who assists Jay in his search; unbeknownst to Jay however, Silas also seeks Rose albeit for more sinister reasons. Speaking as someone who loves the Western genre, I thought that this film really captured the true spirit of what the Western is really about. The cinematography is of the highest quality and perfectly conveys the atmosphere of the open front of Western America before the arrival of settlers. The acting is also of the highest calibre with a brilliant performance from Fassbender who portrays the bounty hunter Silas who acts as Jay’s guide through the Western plains but also comes to be a father figure and mentor for the young man. McPhee also gives a worthy performance as Jay and the combination of the two emerges as one of the film’s most enjoyable, and at times, comedic moments.
One of my personal favourite elements of the film was that the style and atmosphere reminded me of Jim Jarmusch’s acid western epic Dead Man starring Johnny Depp. The similarities of that they both depict the lone wanderer protagonists who are in search of a purpose in their lives. Also the character of Jay and William Blake from Dead Man are similar in the sense that they are outsiders who are stuck in a world they don’t understand and are forced to adapt quickly and, at times, brutally in order to survive. The cinematography of both films is also similar, both films portray the atmosphere of the open landscape of early America and focus their energy on conveying it as an omnipotent God that has power over the characters. I felt that the film’s conveying of the American landscape was reminiscent of modern contemporary Westerns including: No Country for Old Men, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The action of the film was also another high point, mainly because it differed from the classic Western outlaw shootouts and focused more on the psychology of the characters and their choice to be violent. Also there were some examples of comedic violence which again added a twist to the film and made it unique which I really appreciated.
So to wrap up, this was a brilliant independent film with a brilliant cast, great action and psychologically thrilling scenes. I strongly recommend this film if you appreciate the Western genre or if you simply want a break from the average Hollywood blockbuster. Either way you won’t be disappointed and I hope this film ends up getting the recognition it deserves, especially since its difficult in this day and age to achieve the same publicity and promotion that comes automatically within Hollywood for a small independent film, even with the likes of someone like Michael Fassbender attached. I am looking forward to whatever project John Mclean chooses to undertake next, but whatever he does in the future, I would love for him to do another Western because it is a genre I have so much love for and therefore I know quality when I see it.
FINAL WORD: Overall, Slow West is an impressive addition to the Western genre and demonstrates the capabilities of John Mclean in its engrossing dialogue, story, visual style and action. I hope Mclean returns to this genre at some point and I believe him to be a prospect for the future.