Slow West (John Maclean, 2015)

A hyper-revisionist’s take on what could be classified as a straight-shot coming-of-age Western, Slow West tells the tale of Scottish teenager Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) – a naive immigrant intent on tracking down the woman he loves residing somewhere on the titular frontier. When he crosses paths with enigmatic drifter Silas (Michael Fassbender), the man in question offers to escort Jay to his destination for a considerable monetary fee. Trudging solemnly through a vastly unsettled American expanse toward an uncertain endpoint, the duo struggles to persevere as hardships both elemental and human obstruct their progress.

Imbued with admirably low-key sensibilities, Slow West is what one could consider to be the old west a la Wes Anderson and his contemporaries. Barring the intermittent weightiness of the proceedings, Maclean’s script is laced with witty idiosyncrasies and schadenfreude that bolster the film above the typically melodramatic. Even the most dire of situations, like Jay getting robbed blind by a German scholar for example, express a post-traumatic levity that ensures Slow West remains multifaceted and unlike similarly set fare.

Maclean also does a fine enough job in avoiding narrative piffle as Jay and Silas steadfastly approach their destination. The core conundrum paired with their disparate motives involving the same girl is rudimentary in scope but effective, and the inherent uncertainty of the region wandered assuredly procures many an offbeat encounter and individual. Needless to say, Slow West rarely fails to entertain should you not deem it self-involved in terms of an inherently indie vibe.

As an aptly minimalistic take on a well-worn genre and tropes, Slow West is timely and indicative of this generation of filmmaking by way of somber quirkiness and a singular agenda. Although a nigh-pretentious lyricism affects the film’s pacing and goings-on, it never falls victim to this potential flaw on account of how easily it engages by way of chemistry between leads, basal but involving conflict and a tonal personality that – albeit harshly black or white – struck a chord with yours truly. Maclean’s debut is far from amateurish in these regards and finds repeated solace in their exploited strengths as Jay and Silas trek west in tandem.


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