“Slow West” (2015)
The film opens up with a shot of Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a 16-year-old Scottish aristocrat as he lays on a blanket and stares at the sky full of stars. He points his six-shooter at the starts and reminisces about a girl he once knew. While we see the girl, whose name is Rose (Caren Pistorius) likes Jay, but it’s pretty evident that Jay is more enamored with the girl.
Jay is traveling through the frontier on a mission to find his Rose, who has left Scotland for America. He comes across Native American women and children fleeing the forest. The further he goes into the woods the smokier it gets, until he comes across the scene of a burned-out Native American village. He then comes across a male Native American, who quickly runs by him, followed by three men dressed in Army uniforms. Two of the men run after the other man, and the man in command stays to talk to the suet covered Jay. As Jay talks with the man, it’s apparent that he is in trouble, as the man becomes more and more aggressive towards Jay. Suddenly, the man is struck down by a bullet in the back.
The man who shot the gun is Silas Select (Michael Fassbender) who tells the boy to stay there until he gets back. The man takes off after the other two soldiers and soon you here several shots. Silas returns sizes up Jay and says that Jay will never survive on his own. As Silas says, Jay is certainly “a jackrabbit in a den of wolves.” Silas offers to escort Jay to his destination for 100 bucks and Jay, seeing the reality of the situation, accepts. They start upon their journey, one that will change both men forever.
“Slow West” has the feeling of a modern western film but still has some roots in the classic films with touches of “True Grit” and “The Searchers” flowing throughout the movie. Writer / director John Maclean has written a script that is impressive, imaginative and original. The film is a classic “quest” film; with our hero trying to complete a journey that seems to have impossible odds stacked against it. There is a beautiful contrast between the world-weary cowboy who is only out for himself and sees the world as a horrible place versus Jay’s outlook that you can find the good in everyone. Silas sees the West as something to survive. Jay sees the beauty in, willing even to romanticize a bit about it. Silas is ready to give up multiple times on their journey while Jay is always pressing forward, many times at his own peril.
Maclean lets the film move along at a nice place, knowing when to slow it down and when to accelerate the action. It’s obvious that he loves westerns, and his wide screen shots of the prairies are defiantly homage to old-school directors like John Ford and Howard Hawks. The film balances the violence of the old west with the beauty of the land. There is quite a bit of violence in the film, but it’s never gratuitous and helps propel the story along. Mcclean shines when it comes to the action sequences, especially the many shootouts that occur. The action is fast and well-choreographed in those scenes, and the camera is always in the perfect place.
Michael Fassbender is the reason to see this film. He looks as he is made to be in a western, looking comfortable on the screen in a cowboy hat and cigar in his mouth. He dominates the scenes that he is in, reminding me of a modern western Clint Eastwood, giving us a man who keeps his feelings on the inside. He has a nice rapport on the screen with Kodi Smit-McPhee. They play off each other incredibly well, and they have a bond that the audience can see between the two men. Smit-McPhee is perfect in the role of the wide-eyed and optimistic Jay. He plays the nerdy boy trying to survive in the West to a t, and you instantly root for him to succeed.
“Slow West” is a modern take on the classic western, and you will want to go through the journey with the cowboy named Silas, and the Scotsman named Jay. My Rating: Full Price
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
The film is playing in Atlanta exclusively at the Plaza Theatre
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