Slow West, 2015, on Blu-ray, DVD and CinemaNow.com, A24
It saw limited theatrical release yet was one of the most thoroughly enjoyable Westerns in years. Written and directed by Scotsman John Maclean, Slow West stars Australian Kodi Smit-McPhee and German Michael Fassbender and was shot in New Zealand by Irish cinematographer Robbie Ryan. Americans may have lost interest in the genre, but not so the rest of the world if recent trends have taught us anything: The Salvation (Danish director Kristian Levring), Blackthorn (Spanish director Mateo Gil), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (New Zealander director Andrew Dominik), The Proposition (Australian director John Hillcoat). Slow West takes us on an 84-minute ride down a trail equal parts Coen brothers and Budd Boetticher, in places rejecting Hollywood convention even as it pays homage to B-Westerns of the 1950s and ’60s. The scenery, though, calls to mind Middle Earth in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings more than Colorado Territory.
In X-Men: First Class Fassbender portrayed superhero Magneto as a lone, cowboy-like drifter, and he brings that same quiet, cold-blooded volition to his role of Silas, this time playing an actual cowboy. Jay Cavendish (impressive teen actor Smit-McPhee) is a lovesick Scottish traveler who enlists Silas’ help to reunite him with Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius). Two problems for young Cavendish: He can’t admit when he’s been “friend-zoned” by Rose, and he’s oblivious that every bounty hunter in the territory, including Silas, wants Rose and her dad for a reward.
The film may strike some as offbeat and meandering, but no line or frame is wasted. In one great shot Silas and Cavendish, after being caught in a flash flood, ride in their underwear, their clothes drying on a line between their horses.
Like many Westerns, the film ends with a gunfight, but this one is so tense, sad, funny and surprising that it rates as one of the best showdowns ever. Shame if it goes unseen.
Originally published in the October 2015 issue of Wild West.