By Josiah Wampfler
Michael Fassbender has played everything from androids to British spies to southern plantation owners, but up until now he had yet to grace the screen of a Western. In Slow West, Fassbender gets to fulfill a long held dream of his to take a turn as an Eastwood-esque, cigar-chomping outlaw of the Old West: Silas.
The film follows the journey of a young Scottish teen, named Jay Cavendish, who comes to the rough frontier of America in search of his love. Along the way, the scrawny Jay finds that he is ill-prepared for the savage West and teams up with the outlaw Silas.
Slow West is the first feature film from director John Maclean and, though the film includes a plethora of wonderful elements, his lack of experience shows. Slow West is kind of a mess: a beautiful, enjoyable mess.
The performances throughout the film are fantastic. From Fassbender’s multidimensional Silas; to the starry-eyed, idealistic Jay presented by Kodi Smit-McPhee; to the off-kilter, bad man Payne played by Ben Mendelsohn, the performances were spot-on; Not showy, or grandiose, but just perfect for the characters.
And these characters presented by the cast of Slow West are one of the things that holds the whole thing together. Even the under-developed Rose, played by Caren Pistorious, manages to shine through, making you want to see more of her even as the credits roll.
But with all of the wonderful elements brought to the film through the actors, the experience they possess is the one thing the director obviously lacks. Slow West is not your typical Western, to it’s credit. It is a bizarre, violent adventure that takes almost every trope found in Western films and flips them upside-down.
This is what makes Slow West so interesting and at the very least original, but the problems arise in its continuous search for a concrete tone. The film at times seems unsure if it wants to be an original Western with new ideas or a comedic parody of the genre. It rapidly switches from somber to comedic, seemingly playing elements for laughs when maybe it shouldn’t have. That’s not to say you can’t have these different tones, but the switches often seem abrupt and out of place. Plus, sometimes the film will change tone at the worst times, completely abandoning a theme or set piece that really worked.
Still, through all of these problems and through all of the mess , Slow West is an absolutely beautiful film. Almost surreal at times, the film takes a New Zealand landscape and perfectly transforms it into the American West. If nothing else, the film is a sight to behold.
And while its sad that the film isn’t as coherent as it should be, there are so many wonderful elements that make up Slow West that you can’t help but love it. Is it a perfect film? By no means. But, does it capture the imagination and bring something different to the table of a genre that has been saturated with the same old tropes for years? Hell yes.
John Maclean may not have delivered a masterpiece on his first at bat, but what you see in this film is the beginnings of some really great filmmaking. And that is pretty exciting.