Slow West is a Western from newcomer John Maclean, not to be confused with John McClane from Die Hard. Yippee-ki-yay, etc.
The story follows a young man named Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who travels from Scotland to America to find the girl he loves – and that’s a long way to travel in cowboy days; they didn’t even have skateboards. He’s joined by an outlaw called Silas (Michael Fassbender), and together they head west. Slowly. Hence the title.
It’s a gentle ride, with a kick like a hit of whisky. Maclean keeps things lean, with a running time of 84 minutes. The tropes of the Western genre are so familiar that they’re embedded in the fabric of cinema, but Slow West is kept fresh with lyrical dialogue, beautiful direction and sudden violence.
An odd couple with even odder names, Fassbender and Smit-McPhee share a strong dynamic; the survivalist and the intellectual, respectively. Fassbender’s enigmatic intensity and Smit-McPhee’s gaunt face are eminently watchable, while Ben Mendelsohn shows up as a seedy ne’er-do-well. Naturally.
It does feel uneven, and occasionally unsure of itself. But it’s so tightly written and effortlessly played that it’s ultimately rewarding – with a great climax to boot. Whip-smart and taut like a bow string, Slow West is an interesting calling card from Maclean – a Scottish musician and founding member of The Beta Band.
His clean compositions, bright colours and folktale storytelling make for a film as cool and dusty as a Grateful Dead song – and roughly the same length.