Lights, Camera, Action! | Slow West (Movie Review)

By Freda Cooper 24.06.2015

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Slow West (UK Rating: 15)

Westerns have long been out of fashion: even Clint Eastwood hasn't made one for a while, but 2015 points to something of a resurgence, with Tommy Lee Jones' The Homesman at the start of the year, and Quentin Tarantino's much-anticipated The Hateful Eight due in November. Sandwiched in-between is Slow West, which releases this Friday, 26th June. Set to feature in Thursday's Talking Pictures, when the film's star, Michael Fassbender, is the subject of The Big Interview, Lights, Camera, Action! dives in first for this full review.
Image for Lights, Camera, Action! | Slow West (Movie Review)

The story mixes the classic with the spaghetti, with a mysterious stranger turning up out of nowhere. He's Silas (Michael Fassbender), but the story isn't really about him: it belongs to Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a teenager who has travelled all by himself from the Scottish Highlands to Colorado in the late 19th Century in search of the love of his life. He's not coping well with the demands of the journey, so in Silas he finds a guide and a protector, but there's somebody on their tail and Jay can't understand why…

From the outset, the film looks like a picaresque tale, but it soon becomes something more epic in style, yet almost a two-hander between the boy and his guide. Jay's story is laid out early on, while the older man's history unfurls slowly, gradually revealing that, while the two are chalk and cheese, they are also two sides of the same coin: Jay with his positive view of the world, seeing the new America as a land of opportunity, Silas with his cynicism - he could call it realism - and mistrust of everybody he comes across. They are both perceptive, however, as well as being survivors.

This is the first feature film from Scot John Maclean, who also wrote the script, and it's an impressive one. While his Western errs on the side of the traditional, he's chosen an unlikely location for filming: New Zealand, and, with its vast expanses and snow-capped mountains, it doubles beautifully for 19th Century Colorado, giving cinematographer Robbie Ryan something to get his photographic teeth into.

Maclean has created a beguiling film, one that appears gentle, almost soft, but there is always something darker lurking underneath - violence, death, betrayal and brutality. The shoot-out is a case in point, involving a vast corn field that disguises a band of gunmen just below the waving ears of wheat: beautiful on the surface, murderous underneath, rather like the Old West itself. It's that apparent softness, though, that draws the audience in to a film that's never less than fascinating.

A powerful cast has also been assembled, with Michael Fassbender at his most enigmatic as the mysterious loner Silas. Cynical he may be, but that doesn't mean he's without feelings or principles, which is partly why there's somebody following him and the boy. That somebody is bounty hunter, Payne, played with customary cold-blooded menace by Ben Mendlesohn. Among such heavyweights, Kodi Smit-McPhee very comfortably holds his own, acting as the ingénue with hidden depth.

Image for Lights, Camera, Action! | Slow West (Movie Review)

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10
Western fans - and there are still plenty of them - will love Slow West for the way it takes the traditional in a different direction. It is not the first Western to have a teenager at its heart - think True Grit - but this time the youngster is both pursued and pursuer. Its enigmatic quality makes the film fascinating, but there's one puzzle that is never solved: its title. How it relates to the film is a complete mystery. Answers on a postcard, please!

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