At one point in Slow West, during the climactic shootout in and around a house in the middle of pristine country, a bullet shatters a container of salt sitting on a shelf above a mortally wounded character, and the salt pours into his wound. It’s a great, funny little throwaway of a moment, one that perhaps best conveys the wonderfully offbeat air of this western starring Michael Fassbender.
Written and directed by one John Maclean (formerly of the Scottish group The Beta Band), it tells of a young, proper British boy (The Road’s Kodi Smit-McPhee) come to America to find his lost love (Caren Pistorius). Unfamiliar with and not quite equipped to handle the unlawful ways of the land, he pays bounty hunter Fassbender for protection, unaware of the man’s ulterior motives.
By offbeat, I don’t mean Dead Man weird, nor slow-moving like The Assassination of Jesse James (which is a great movie). I think Rango comes closest. It has an accessible plot, characters you like or hate, and contains its share of action. But Maclean tinges it all with a slightly odd sense of humor, and a certain lyricism, that makes it more entertaining than your average western.
The casting certainly helps, starting with Smit-McPhee. He’s a lanky, admittedly nerdy looking thing whom you immediately buy as a lovelorn, well-read youth. He pairs up nicely with Fassbender, who has picked a better project than Jonah Hex in which to play a cowboy type, which he does very well, both with the gunplay, and with how he reveals his character’s regrets and flaws.
Aussie vet Ben Mendelsohn (Black Sea) is great, too, as a rival bounty hunter who rides around wearing a big fur coat and is obviously a learned man himself, and smooth—at one point he tries to glean information from Fassbender by getting him drunk. Pistorius brings gentleness and, more importantly, convincing survival-instinct mettle as Smit-McPhee’s object of yearning.
Up to this point I may have sold the film as something like Maverick, but it does contain violence. Not quite Quentin Tarantino-levels of it, but it’s there. As are copious amounts of New Zealand scenery, which Maclean displays gorgeously. Heck, Maclean proves a great director in general. This is only his first film, and already he knows how to frame shots and use angles to spin an entertaining yarn. – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 7/7/15