A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!
Directed By: John Maclean
Produced By: Iain Canning, Michael Fassbender, Rachael Gardner
Written By: John Maclean
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorious
Running Time: 84 Minutes
In an ever-growing cinematic age, the temptation is to blend modern techniques with homages to the classics. This temptation has grown to become more of a trend, but there are always those films that sway towards one particular approach over the other.
There are few genres that lend themselves more to this approach than the western; a brooding, raw view on the world, in which the viewer is taken out of their comfort zone and brought down to earth. In John Maclean’s full-length debut feature Slow West; we’re treated to a grounded, traditional story with characters to match.
We’re presented with a modern film that bleeds the same blood of the genre’s archetypes, but through its modesty and plodding nature, a sizeable void is created that otherwise should’ve been filled.
The sleek and vulnerable Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a Scotsman travelling across the unforgiving landscapes of America in search of his love, Rose Ross (Caren Pistorious).
After crossing paths with the unpredictable, impenetrable outlaw Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender), the two set off on the same journey across the marvellous New Zealand setting, posing as the American countryside.
Although the direction of the film focuses heavily on the relationship between Jay and Silas, the film lacks most in the antagonist, which is never ideal, particularly in a western.
Payne (Ben Mendelsohn) has everything required to be a fantastic rival at his disposal, but sadly, the script doesn’t give him the freedom to use any of it. Apart from some ankle-deep backstory and a fairly mismatched scene towards the second act conclusion, there is nothing to fear in Payne, nothing to avoid, nothing to care about.
The same could be said for many other characters within the film, but it is most crucial in a story such as this that there is a great sense of threat from a daunting opposition, and with Payne, his absence was a weak link.
Slow West has been shot through a classicist lens, demonstrating the term does not need to be linked exclusively with the genre-defining pictures of yesteryear. The narrative is as simple as you’d hope for in a western, leaving room for in-depth, whole-hearted character exploration.
The only issue is, there is nowhere near as much as you’d expect. As characters voyage onwards into the vast abyss, unsure if they’ll reach their goals, certain changes are meant to occur.
These changes do in fact occur within the leading pair of Fassbender and McPhee, however they’re few and far between. Flashbacks are prominently utilised thought the slow burning picture, however there was plenty more room for additional stories, especially given the films unusually short runtime.
The film may not be a pioneering stepping stone for the western filmic narrative, but what Slow West was able to achieve was exhibiting the awe-inspiring landscapes of The United States of New Zealand in all their glory.
This may be 2015’s most beautiful film from a visual perspective.
Through the eye of cinematographer Robbie Ryan, the rolling hills, ominous rock formations, vast wastelands, dense forestation and everything in between are shot exquisitely, all the while possessing a striking colour pallet that results in pure enchantment.
The bluest of skies, the greenest of grass, the most satisfying spectrum of colour contrasts you could ask for, it’s all here within eighty-four minutes of moving paintings.
By its very nature, the structure of a western can be broken down in a matter of seconds, across all divisions of the genre. Slow West is no radical departure from the norm, but it shows promise for everyone involved in production, particularly director John Maclean.
Impressive, immersive and stunning to watch, Slow West may not amount to much in terms of a masterful example of a western, but we must remain optimistic and watch this space.
Slow and steady, as they say…