John Maclean’s picturesque and wandering Slow West drops European characters onto the great American frontier and brings European traditions to the Western genre in a striking and eloquently told story.
Young Scot, Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is crossing the North American continent in search of his lost love Rose (Caren Pistorius) who has fled her home along with her father (Rory McCann). Making it as far as Colorado, Jay meets the enigmatic bounty hunter Silas (Michael Fassbender) who agrees to protect him as he searches for her in the dangerous wilderness. Unbeknownst to Jay, Rose and her father have a bounty on their heads and Silas and Jay are being tracked by Silas’s old gang of miscreants as they wander across a country in which the native inhabitants are being systematically turfed-out by immigrants and where the threat of death is constant.
We see the story and the landscape through the very young eyes of Jay, a stranger in a strange land. There’s a naïve sense of stubborn honour to Kodi Smit-McPhee’s performance as Jay wanders, totally ill-equipped, across the unforgiving landscape of New Zealand’s countryside standing in for Colorado. The methodical plod across the wild with Silas (an Irishman) sees Jay come across a desperate Swedish family and a writer conducting an anthropological study of the native inhabitants. There’s a great sense in Slow West that this is a land in flux, with its traditional landowners being pushed aside by great, rolling waves of European migrants. The displacement of Native Americans is not necessarily new to the genre, but Slow West tackles the issue with a degree of sensitivity and ingenuity that’s remarkably confident from a first-time feature director.
Blending moments of dark humour with pathos and desperate tragedy, Maclean has crafted a film that’s both visually and thematically remarkable; a wonderful examination of the changing face of the American wilderness and a poignant story of lost love.
The DVD boasts a number of fine additional features including a behind the scenes featurette, interviews with Fassbender and Smit-McPhee and a Super 8 picture collage of behind the scenes moments. There’s also the dreamy short, Railroad and the Moon which served as a visual inspiration for much of Slow West’s deliberate and moody aesthetic, as well as John Maclean’s Pitch Black Heist, a short film gem that is almost worth the price of a DVD itself.
Western | UK, 2015 | 15 | Lionsgate Film | 2nd November 2015 (UK) | Dir.John Maclean | Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorius | Buy:Slow West [Blu-ray]