(John Maclean, 2015)
Slow West feels like an attempt to revive the quirky revisionist Westerns of the 1970s. Not the big ones, or the ones that matter, like the work of Leone or Peckinpah or Eastwood, even. It feels more like an attempt to capture the spirt of films like Peter Fonda's The Hired Hand (1971) or Robert Benton's Bad Company (1972). As such it is patient and loose, talky and random, its plot only really kicking in for the last act gun battle which is the most acute the film ever gets, and the first time Maclean really gets to grips with critiquing the genre while also making Slow West feel like a Western. It's an unusual, interesting film, if not always a successful one.
Kodie Smit-McPhee plays Jay, a young Scot who has travelled across the Atlantic after his lost love, Rose (Caren Pistorius), who has fled their homeland with her father after an unfortunate manslaughter has made them fugitives. Jay is an innocent and idealist, and he is lucky to survive the West long enough to run into Bounty Hunter Silas (Michael Fassbender, on charismatic cruise control). Silas agrees to keep him safe until he reaches his destination, in exchange for $100, all the while planning to collect the large bounty on both Rose and her father's heads. But he begins to warm to the kid, and the situation is complicated by the arrival of Ben Mendelsohn as Silas' old outlaw buddy and his pack of jackals, also after that reward, and set on tailing the duo until they get it.
In place of a plot, Maclean sends his characters on a picaresque, episodic journey through the West, encountering plenty of oddball characters and situations as they go. That keeps it entertaining, and it is always lovely (Robbie Ryan, Director of photography, is MVP here) but it always feels a little frustrating too - like it could be more powerful or more incisive.
But as a debut film, it is accomplished and never dull. Fassbender and Mendelsohn both feel right at home in a Western milieu - hopefully some day they will have a vehicle better-suited to demonstrating that.