There is an untamed purity to the West in the pre-colonization period. People were slowly making their way westward in the hopes of getting their own chance at the American Dream. The West not only embodied the American spirit of industry, but also the violent, non-nurturing nature that America was built upon (i.e. The American Revolution). It was the land of opportunity for man and bandit alike. Everything was settled with pistols at high noon, and no one was safe from death. What rarely gets mentioned is the West’s capacity for comedy or how it can be beautiful, but lethal at the same time.
After a series of unfortunate events, Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) searches for his childhood love Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius), who was forced to flee as a fugitive from her Scotland home to the US with her father, John Ross (Rory McCann from Game of Thrones). The naive, enamored Jay goes after her, disregarding that he has only an outdated book to tell him what to expect from the West. Jay finds out early on that he is not savvy enough to brave what the West can throw at him, when he is saved by a mysterious stranger named Silas (Michael Fassbender), who is actually a bounty hunter interested in having Jay lead him to the whereabouts of John and Rose. Silas isn’t the only person interested in claiming the huge bounty on their heads, and he finds this out when he runs into old associate Payne, the leader of a group of bounty hunter/mercenaries that Silas was once a part of. Travelling through the beauteous Colorado landscape, there is darkness around every corner. This is a place where your love could get you shot in the heart and then salt poured in the wound.
First time writer/director John Maclean creates Slow West as a sort of unofficial love child of Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino. Although the muted color tones don’t quite match Anderson’s style, the long landscape shots, focus on symmetry, and accents of quirky humor throughout the film do. These elements are used to turn a potentially typical western into an atypical story of forlorn, futile love. Tarantino’s style comes into play with the use of casual, brutal violence and thoughtfully paced and placed punchlines/humor. You have to take the whimsical with the carnage. The fact that each character represents a different western archetype only enhanced the effects of the storytelling. We see a Billy the Kid, a Doc Holiday, Butch Cassidy, and Annie Oakley take on our protagonists.
Older westerns have a tendency of being all about brute force and luck, with hints of casual racism. The good guys always win, and the bad guys were destined to lose from the beginning. Slow West is the perfect clash of the Wild West meeting the Western World; in this case Scotland. Some of the comedy stems from the cross between civilized, European society (and their way of thinking), against the brute, violent temperament of the West and its people. The character Jay Cavendish’s blind search for his lost, unrequited love leads to dangerous situations where his naivete gets him close to being killed. The approach Jay has to the West is the same that I have when I’ve gone camping: I have no idea what I’m doing, and I would have died many times over without someone else’s help.
Slow West reminds us that nothing is as simple as black and white. Sometimes things are sepia-toned, but more often they are vibrantly colored, regardless of whether it’s something that will bring you joy or inevitably cause your death. First timer John Maclean shows us he can weave and tell a story like he’s been doing it for years. Slow West is not lethargic, but deliberately paced around the apologue it is constructing and deconstructing.
RATING: ★★★★★★★★★(9/10 stars)