Special thanks to Iba from I Luv Cinema for her Sundance review!
Ah, the western – on its surface, it would seem it is not to my favorite cinematic genre. But upon further examination, I must admit it has produced some of my all time favorite films (High Noon, Unforgiven, The Searchers, The Ox Bow Incident). At their best, westerns have the potential to provide an insightful glimpse into the human condition. Or, they could just simply be well executed, rock-em, shock-em, shoot-em-ups.
I am still not sure that Slow West will enter the pantheon of the films in this genre that I hold in the highest of regards, but I will concede that I enjoyed the film.
Set in the sweeping expanse of the western frontier of 19th century America (but shot in New Zealand), Slow West is the journey of young Scot nobleman Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as he leaves his homeland in search for his love Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius). Along the way, he runs into a variety of characters – most importantly Silas (Executive Producer Michael Fassbender), who is to be his guide. It is clear that Silas is an opportunist of sorts, but how far down the rabbit hole is the question we will ask ourselves, and later discover over the course of the film.
Slow West combines the wild serenity of the environs, with moments of explosive (and sometimes surprising) violence – even by Western standards. And, in the midst of all this, the film finds instances of irony that will make you laugh out loud – seriously, I laughed for at least two prolonged periods.
While this film may not lay out the big moral questions of those previously mentioned films that I love so much, there is a sequence at the end, which, based on how you view it, may serve as a reminder of what has been gained and lost on this journey propelled by young love.
In addition to the love story, the “stranger in a strange land” theme pervades throughout – so it is apropos that the film is lensed by a “stranger” of sorts – Scottish-born, BAFTA-award winning writer-director John Maclean (Pitch Black Heist). Slow West marks his full-length feature (and Sundance) debut.
It would be remiss of me not to credit the work of all the actors involved for a job well done. Mind you, Smit-McPhee and Fassbender are the central protagonists, but the film felt like a truly collaborative experience.
In the end, I feel that Slow West is a film that is accessible even if you are not a particular fan of the genre. Or, if like me, you have yet to truly discover how much the genre has to offer you cinematically.
* Slow West was the 2015 Sundance winner of the World Cinema Jury Prize: Drama.
What do you think of Slow West? Are you keen on seeing it when it’s released near you?