Review: Slow West (Sundance 2015)
PLOT: A Scottish tenderfoot (Kodi Smit-McPhee) journeys through the American West to reunite with his true love. He's aided by a rough and tumble bounty hunter (Michael Fassbender) with an agenda of his own.
REVIEW: SLOW WEST is another hidden Sundance gem. Having already been picked up by A24 and DirectTV, SLOW WEST was not among the films to get crazy buzz around town amid the buyers as its already slated for a theatrical/VOD release this spring. Yet, while the headlines have been going to the acquisition titles, SLOW WEST has been steadily building up some strong word-of-mouth among critics and audiences, and lucky for me I was able to finally catch up with it before the festival's end.
It's really a shame that most people will be catching SLOW WEST as VOD as if ever a movie cried out to be seen on the big screen it's this. Lavishly shot in New Zealand (despite taking place in Colorado) SLOW WEST is intriguing in that it's an utterly foreign take on the American West, with a cast and crew mostly stacked with Europeans. Despite that, the film is very true to the spirit of old time westerns, at its heart being a relatively straightforward story of a young man's quest for love and how he becomes a man on the way to fulfilling his goal.
It's funny how Kodi Smit-McPhee's found himself finally cast in a western after appearing in two other pseudo-westerns (THE ROAD & YOUNG ONES). McPhee, with his fresh-face and boyishness makes a likable tenderfoot, and his chemistry with Fassbender is spot-on, with the two quickly establishing a kind of big-brother/younger-brother dynamic that gives the film a lot of heart. For his part, Fassbender has never looked cooler, with his stubble, omni-present cigarillo, and worn-out cowboy duds making him look like Eastwood's The Man With No Name (although he's way more verbose).
For the most part, SLOW WEST is a two-hander, but lots of interesting character actors like the great Ben Mendelsohn wander in and out, giving the film some personality. What really distinguishes SLOW WEST is writer-director John Maclean's black sense-of-humor. The movie often hilarious in a pitch-black kind of way that constantly livens it up, although running a brisk eighty minutes, SLOW WEST is a quick watch, not unlike the many great western programmers it takes a page from. One could imagine Anthony Mann directing a (possibly) less funny version of this back in the fifties with a guy like Jimmy Stewart in the Fassbender role. It's certainly not a grandiose epic, or as elegiac and poetic as THE PROPOSITION or THE ASSASINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD, but it's a very effective modern take on the western with enough unconventional bits mixed in to give it an eccentric style all of its own. Keep an eye peeled for its eventual VOD release although if a theatrical option is available I wholeheartedly recommend it.
CLICK IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY & SEE MORE PICS...