Slow West (2015) / Western-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for violence and brief language
Running Time: 84 min.

Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorius, Rory McCann, Karl Willetts
Director: John Maclean
Screenplay: John Maclean

Review published May 19, 2015

Slow West is an offbeat Western, set in the American Old West but featuring mostly non-U.S. actors and shot in New Zealand.  it's a movie that entertains more from the odd little touches -- a moment when French is spoken, another when salt literally goes into a wound -- than it does through the fairly straightforward plotline.

Set around 1870, Kodi Smit-McPhee (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Young Ones) stars as a naive young Scottish immigrant Jay Cavendish, who has come to the rough-and-tumble States to find his old sweetheart, Rose Ross (Pistorius, The Most Fun You Can Have Dying), not knowing that in the time since their separation, Rose and her father have become outlaws since making the trip overseas.  Michael Fassbender (Days of Future Past, Frank), who also executive produces, plays Silas Selleck, a bounty hunter (and former outlaw, himself) who befriends him and offers to guide and protect him through the treacherous Colorado territories, but is secretly using him to eventually find the girl and claim her, dead or alive, for a $2,000 reward, plus whatever money Jay is willing to pay him for safe escort.

Scottish writer-director John Maclean, who had already worked with Fassbender in a couple of short films he had made within the last five years, takes his first stab at a feature film, and offers up an interesting take that feels fresh, even if it does strain to maintain momentum for the entirety of its relatively short 84-minute run time.  It is a bleak, but comical, look at the ruthlessness of the Old West, and how the beginning of the country meant an end to lives, and to the ways of life, of both natives and the various immigrant factions, all looking to survive.

Uneven, but with enough unique and interesting qualities, as well as a wry sense of ironic humor, to recommend, Slow West feels like a rough draft of a genuinely good film, offering a good example of Maclean's talent as screenwriter and director, but not quite at the level where he's able to develop a full-length film yet.  I suppose the title is appropriate, as it is as leisurely paced a sub 90-minute film as you may find these days.  Still, it's beautifully shot by Robbie Ryan (Philomena, The Last Days on Mars), and engaging enough with its frequent changes in characters and scenery to avoid redundancy, and the shootout at the end of the film is particularly riveting, as we genuinely don't know how the film will resolve, or which characters will emerge to see another day.

Qwipster's rating:

2015 Vince Leo