Modern Westerns may be a rare breed, but modern Westerns with a unique take on the genre? Even more so. Which is what makes “Slow West” such an interesting release. I mean, just look at that trippy poster, very cool indeed. So, can it offer up a solid film from the mix?
The story is set in America in the 1870’s, as we follow a young man named Jay (Kodi Smit McPhee) as he travels to the West in search of his love Rose. (Caren Pistorius) After stumbling across some criminals he hires the aid of a bounty hunter named Silas (Michael Fassbender) to help protect him on his way. But their travels reveal the dangers that lie both ahead, and from between them, in a land where survival is the only way.
So as far as the initial setup, this holds fairly in-line with standard Westerns. But this simplicity works to its advantage, as there are no annoying sub-plots hindering the path, keeping the focus where desired. The basic ingredients are all here – from the big landscapes and tough life, to hardened criminals and struggle to see it to the end of each day.
So, let’s look instead at what makes this stand out. And the visuals really leave their impression, they are stunning. There’s all the feel of a Western, but being shot in New Zealand give it this green, wide-open, and almost surreal aesthetic. Don’t worry, the dust-bowls remain too, but the high contrast with the vegetation makes them stand out all the more. The camerawork is especially worthy of acclaim too, the small story set in the huge land is captured perfectly, and the angles let the natural lighting show off the sequences at their best.
I think the strongest element the film has to offer are the twists taken in the narrative, and the reveals. Some are genuine jaw-droppers that turn what was already a pretty bleak scene into a soul-destroying one. If you know the one I am on about in the tavern, you will know the feeling. And then there are these strange wanderings off into scenes that feel disconnected at first, but work their way into the story in a way that is hard to explain. Almost like a story you heard while drunk on a night out – you don’t know how the conversation got there, but it alls clicks together in the end eventually.
In fact, there is very little to single out for complaint. Only the very end felt a little too artistic for its own sake. I mean sure, it is a GRITTY end to the affairs, but it could have been played off the stage a little better. But really, I can only point that out because of personal taste, it isn’t an inherent flaw or anything like that.
Once all is over, “Slow West” succeeds succeeds at exactly what it set out to achive. You get all the aspects of a Western that you want to see, combined with a very unique coat of paint that just dazzles. I reviewed “The Salvation” previously and enjoyed it a lot, but this is on a higher step of the ladder due to keeping the narrative better focussed. Fassbender brings his charisma and atmosphere that we all enjoy seeing, the violence is pretty damm brutal at some points, and the clash of hope for the future against survival for today is played out in a manner that makes you question which would be the right frame of mind to take.
This is a definite must-see for genre fans, and is a smaller release that really deserves more traction. Hopefully it will get that on the home release. The West was a filthy, barren, and deadly time, but this fil proves once again that the alluring beauty it possessed can still captivate modern audiences.
Thanks for reading!