I’m getting close to finishing off my list of 2015 films to watch so I can finally do my best of and worst of lists. One film that was suddenly added to the list was Slow West, a little-known Western that caught my eye after it found its way onto a couple of “Best of 2015” lists I came across.
Created by first-time writer and director John Maclean, Slow West stands out because it is so darn unusual. It may star Michael Fassbender and recognisable names such as Kodi Smit-McPhee and Ben Mendelsohn, but it’s understandable why the film got so little buzz among mainstream audiences and media even though it won jury prize at Sundance.
The premise is weird: McPhee plays Jay, a young Scottish man who heads to the American West to search for his love. There, he encounters Silas (Assbender), a bounty hunter who offers to protect him along the way in exchange for payment. But ulterior motives are involved and Jay doesn’t really know if he should be terrified of Silas or trust the bounty hunter with his life — or both.
It’s not easy to describe the kind of film Slow West is. The title is apt because it is a Western and the pace is slow. It’s an atypical coming-of-age film that’s pretty to look at, quirky, awkward, darkly comedic and slightly absurd, but also extremely violent. This sweet juxtaposition reminds me a little of Fargo, both the movie and the TV show, which I think just are two of the greatest things ever made. If you’ve seen the movie or the show you’ll have an idea of what I mean, though in my opinion Slow West isn’t quite up to the level of those masterpieces.
Smit-McPhee, who a lot of people don’t realise is Aussie, is carving out quite a career for himself despite not growing up looking like a traditional heartthrob. The Road, Let Me In and soon X-Men: Apocalypse as Nightcrawler; the 19-year-old is sure picking a lot of great roles. He’s excellent in Slow West, exuding a quiet charm and resiliency despite playing essentially quite a wimpy character.
Likewise, Assbender is totally bending asses again left and right as the cool bounty hunter. It’s good to see him produce and star in a small film like this while making all these huge blockbusters, and putting in equal effort to make his characters come to life no matter the size of the role or the budget.
As much as I enjoyed it, I recognise Slow West is likely to polarise audiences. It has elements that critics love (92% on Rotten Tomatoes), but may be too weird and slow — even at just 84 minutes — for mainstream audiences. Personally, I found it to be nice little film, interesting and funny enough to sustain my interest until the wild and gripping climax. While I wouldn’t place it in my top 10 of 2015, I appreciate it for what it is and look forward to seeing Maclean had in store for us next.
3.5 stars out of 5