Slow West Review: The Highland Gentleman and The Scoundrel
A Western comeback.
It’s hard to find a good western these days. Gone the weekly releases of popular Westerns, mostly because we no longer glamorize the Old West. We now look down on those films as being naive. When a western does come out, it’s labeled a Revisionist Western, a term denoting removal of nostalgia, and they’re usually about the horrors of Western expansion and bleak realities of frontier life. Slow West, the debut film from writer/director John Maclean is a film that confronts the myths of the Old West with the reality.
Slow West is the tale of Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a teenage Scottish highborn who has traveled to the American frontier to be reunited with the woman he loves, Rose (Caren Pistorius). Jay’s a romantic, both in love and in his perception of world he is traveling. He’s taken in by the beauty of the world around him, and as a result, he isn’t prepared for stark realities of the Old West. In his travels, he encounters Silas (Michael Fassbender), who explains to Jay that he’s not fit to survive in this world. Silas agrees to Jay to where he needs to go – for a fee.
Slow West exists almost as the living embodiment of the old western versus the revisionist western. As he passes through dream landscapes and encounters nightmarish characters, Jay watches as his vision of the West is shattered. Slowly, Silas reveals the true face of the West to him. Kodi Smit-McPhee, who caught got his big break in the grim Cormac McCarthy adaptation The Road, is excellent as Jay. He has a real charm and an innocence to his face, so you feel his pain when he forced into violence. Slow West is like home to Fassbender, who has a look and a swagger that makes him a perfect match for the film. In playing Silas, he simultaneously exudes a sense of humor and a sense of savagery in the role. Ben Mendelsohn, currently the best bad guy in the business, plays Payne, the head of a posse following Jay and Silas. Payne may have business with Silas and he also may be looking for Rose. No matter what the character is doing, no one chews scenery like Mendelsohn.
Slow West shines because of its effectiveness. It’s 84 minutes with nearly no fat, and the violence comes quick and fast. In the end, the ruthlessness of Slow West is what makes this one of the very best western to come around in a while. It exists as a snapshot of the Old West that has faded; vanished is the beauty, and all you see now are old scars.