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'Slow West': EW review

Posted on

An American Western shot in New Zealand and Scotland, it stars Michael Fassbender as a mysterious traveler leading a Scottish teenager ( Dawn of the…

Slow West

Current Status:
In Season
84 minutes
Wide Release Date:
Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn, Rory McCann
John Maclean
Action Thriller, Western

We gave it a B+

Has any genre had more lives than the Western? Like the stylishly violent spaghetti oaters that became one of Italy’s chief exports in the ’60s, writer-director John Maclean’s haunting, lyrical, and brutal Slow West is proof that even the dustiest settings can be made to feel fresh again. Shot in New Zealand, this Western stars The Road’s Kodi Smit-McPhee as 16-year-old Jay Cavendish—a lanky, bookish Scotsman traveling westward across the Colorado Territory in search of his lost love, Rose (Caren Pistorius). In Maclean’s telling, the frontier is a nasty place full of loneliness and harsh suffering. In other words, it’s no place for a shaky-holstered naïf like Jay. So when Michael Fassbender’s Silas shows up, with an outlaw’s smirk and a cheroot wedged between his teeth like a young Clint Eastwood, Jay immediately takes him up on his offer of protection in exchange for what little money he has. Silas’ motives go deeper than just a payday and pity, though. Jay doesn’t know it, but Rose and her father have a bounty on their heads—a bounty that Jay is unwittingly leading Silas directly to. Slow West has a few distracting art-house affectations and some moments of comic surrealism that feel weirdly off-key, but Maclean’s small-scale coming-of-age tale has a mythic beauty and a vein of melancholy that are undeniable. And the finale, which brings Jay and Silas together with a rival bounty-hunting posse led by a deliciously sinister Ben Mendelsohn (in what has to be the 19th century’s gaudiest fur coat), is a tense, dreamlike ballet of bullets and bloodshed. Imagine Terrence Malick directing the climax of The Wild Bunch, and you’re on the right track. B+