Set against a glorious Colorado background, Slow West’s aesthetic appeal is its greatest, each sun-drenched shot from cinematographer Robbie Ryan is framed like a painting, with a wide scope and a deeply defined sense of space, making you feel simultaneously tiny and in the thick of the action. They remind me a lot of matte paintings used on the backdrops of classic films, a visual style that lends itself very easily to the western, a long shrugged-off genre of yesteryear, a genre that director John Maclean has breathed a new lease of life into.
Plodding along through this vast and dusty land is Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a young Scottish boy and an old romantic, on a quest to be reunited with his love, Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius). The bright eyed and bushy tailed dreamer embarks with love in his heart and a poetic tongue, something that bounty hunter Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender) disagrees with. Silas is also out to find Rose, who has a price on her head. The pair cross paths and become unlikely companions crossing the plains of Colorado and weaving through the forests keeping hidden from Native Americans and straggling European wanderers.
The film pairs two unlikely walks of life in a sort-of road movie, an outlaw and wanderer vs a rich respectable boy filled with love. Naturally, the pair learn from each other and gain mutual respect in a slow-burning scene where Silas shaves Jay with a cut-throat razor. The scene may seem irrelevant and simple to some but the intensity of the movement of the blade and the calmness on each man’s face is a testament to their new-found respect for one another. The sound in this scene and other key moments between the pair is very minimal, in a landscape such as this, anything could happen and the use of foley sound is drawn out to its full extent, the sound of a gun being cocked, a match being lit or a tree branch being snapped are sharp and jarring- a never ending sense of unsettlement between Silas and Jay. The mood is instantly heightened and the audience feels nervous about who is about to strike, one of the duo or someone lurking around the corner.
Sound is also used to draw us to flashbacks, a ditzy but grand score from Jed Kurzel, not unlike the one from Quentin Tarantino’s recent, The Hateful Eight, takes us back to the events that led to Rose and her father’s bounty, shot back in time and temporarily relaxed from the otherwise tense goings on between the outlaw and romantic.
Despite its tense moments, the film also manages to be darkly funny, a violent and bloody slapstick comedy plays out in various scenes such as when an arrow bursts through Jay’s hand, a stomach churning bit of gore but also a welcome comic relief. MacLean balances these moments throughout the film perfectly, framing the shots so we never see what’s coming, but can always see the full extent of a wound or characters reaction. These scenes even feel over-acted, but are met with open arms, a nod to films of the past and a dismissal of the gritty and mindlessly aggressive films we are so used to seeing from the likes of Tarantino.
At its roots, Slow West is a story about survival and the meaning of life and how the two are opposed. For Silas, survival is key, day to day activities that top you from dying are all that is needed for a long life. But what about a happy life? Jay searches for meaning on his journey, love and happiness with his girl and seeks to move beyond the boundaries of basic survival, a trait that Silas eventually learns in this slick and often heart-warming tale of unlikely paths crossing.
by Chloe Leeson
Chloe Leeson is the founder of Screenqueens. She is 20 and from the north of England (the proper north). She believes Harmony Korine is the future and is pretty sure she coined the term ‘selfie central’. She doesn’t like Pina Coladas or getting caught in the rain but she does like Ezra Miller a whole lot. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, The Beach and Lords of Dogtown. But DON’T talk to her about Paranormal Activity. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff.