Slow West Review

Slow West

A 16 year old boy named Jay travels to the West in search of his lady love, Rose. A vagrant Silas teams up with Jay to get him safely to her. Silas knows something Jay does: Rose is wanted for murder.

His name is Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee), her name is Rose Caren Pistorious). He travels to the West from his home in Scotland to find her and claim her love.

Along his gruelling journey he encounters Silas (Michael Fassbender) who, for a fee, agrees to assist Jay to reach Rose safely. Rose, however, is wanted for murder with a reward of $2,000 on her head, dead or alive.

Silas very much knows this. Jay doesn’t. But together they ride West, where friends aren’t friends, but neither are enemies enemies.

Sometimes.

Directed by John Maclean of The Beta Band and their many music videos, Slow West was always going to have its fair share of choreography and visual appeal.

Robbie Ryan’s photography captures the rolling plains, empty houses and endless horizons of middle America at the end of the 19th century. The world is made present by the absence of stuff, and superfluity of environment; houses squat alone in the middle of vast expanses of corn with nothing but a table, chairs, and guns inside them.

There is so much space and so much sky.

And that’s the most striking and admirable quality of this picture: it confronts you with the absolute and total heartlessness of the dog eat dog West.

Everyone is desperate for everything they can get, and the struggle is constant. As soon as you stopped, someone would have the shirt off your back.

Unless you shot them.

Slow West feels much longer than 84 minutes, but is a reflection of the pace of life. The characters walk, unpack, eat, sleep, wake, repeat. Watching, you’re left with no illusions of the romantic, gun-slinging West.

Indeed, it is this that left me feeling faintly stunned at the end: the harshness, the brutality, and the absence of meaning. There’s no riding off into the sunset in this West, the horizon never gets any closer.

Another striking touch was the vast array of accents present. Most Americans hail from elsewhere, and before the accents we associate with the U.S. of A were around, Scottish, Irish, German and East European accents preceded them, which adds a nice touch of authenticity to the period.

Dialogue is as sparse as the plains. Several exchanges are almost abstract in their content with nothing was said that wasn’t necessary, and not because they were busy filling the silence with explosions and car chases.

The language lacked the biblical eloquence of other 19th century set westerns like True Grit, but it plays well, and there is a great deal of black humour scattered like a handful of shotgun shells throughout the film.

As Slow West seems to get across, sometimes all you can do is laugh and get on with it.

At the end of it all is love, but not how we’re used to seeing stories of love, or the journeys towards it, told. Slow West and the love within it leaves you with that thing most associated with the world’s number one emotion: a hollow, ringing ache.

The sights of Slow West will elevate you even as its events crush you, but it’s still uplifting.

If you can bear the weight.

EJ Robinson

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June 2015
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