Slow West
dir-scr John Maclean
prd Iain Canning, Rachel Gardner, Conor McCaughan, Emile Sherman
with Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorius, Rory McCann, Kalani Queypo, Andrew Robertt, Aaron McGregor, Madeleine Sami, Eddie Campbell, Michael Whalley, Jon Cummings
release US 15.May.15, UK 26.Jun.15
15/New Zealand Film4 1h24
Slow West
A close shave: Fassbender and McPhee

fassbender mcphee mendelsohn
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Slow West Taking a refreshingly askance approach to the Western, Maclean creates a thoroughly involving account of an epic journey. The film feels a bit on the thin side, never saying much beyond that life can be unpredictable and tough, but it's packed with telling observations, wry humour, great characters and spectacular landscapes.

At 16, Jay (Smit-McPhee) travels from Scotland to America to find his beloved Rose (Pistorius), who has moved to the middle of nowhere with her father (McCann). Riding through a Colorado forest, Jay meets Silas (Fassbender), a loner who offers protection over the dangerous remaining part of his journey, passing through mountains and plains that are overrun with both natives and criminal gangs. One of these gangs is the one Silas left, run by his old pal Payne (Mendelsohn), who is following them because Rose and her father are worth $2,000 dead or alive.

The film is structured as a series of small adventures along the road as Jay and Silas bond awkwardly, protecting each other from the dangers that come along. It's a very simple idea, deepened by the conversations these two not-so-dissimilar men have with each other, as well as with people they meet on the trail. Stories are accompanied by flashbacks, then play out in events that come along as Jay confronts the life-or-death desperation in the Wild West and Silas reluctantly reconnects with his own soul.

Both deliver terrific performances. Smit-McPhee seems soft and inexperienced, but by risking his life for Rose he reveals a bright spark of boldness inside him. By comparison, Fassbender feels offhanded and slippery, keeping out of full view of the cameras until he's willing to let himself be seen for who he really is. Silas' journey is much more delicately complex than Jay's, and he plays it perfectly, without ever indulging in the emotion that's lurking just beneath the surface.

With his first feature, writer-director Mclean's sardonic approach sits perfectly with Robbie Ryan's gorgeous photography, transforming the dramatic New Zealand locations into almost primordial American vistas, from expansive valleys to claustrophobic woods. In this powerful setting, these two men are peeled back to their cores by a society that has collapsed into the rule of violence. And both of these men seem to be amused to discover that they still have a sliver of humanity left inside them.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 20.May.15

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