By Linc Leifeste | May 23, 2015
Director: John Maclean
Writer: John Maclean
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorious, Edwin Wright, Rory McCann
In this age of endless reboots, sequels and CGI-filled blockbusters, when too often filmmakers seemingly confuse the art of visual storytelling with the vice of sensory overload, it’s not unusual to walk out of the theater wondering if the film was more inspired and informed by commercial impulses or artistic vision. So thank God for those seemingly rare modern filmmakers such as John Maclean, who, while obviously a student of earlier masters such as John Ford, Sam Peckinpah, Clint Eastwood and Jim Jarmusch, are telling original visual tales on a small scale, relying equally on smart storytelling, well-crafted shots, impeccably scouted locations and solid acting, to deliver a story that provokes in equal parts wonder, thought and emotion.
This is a film that relies more on imagery than on traditional plot but there is still a basic story being told. Young Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) has come to 19th-century America from Scotland in search of his young lover Rose Ross (Caren Pistorious), who has fled her native country along with her father, John (Rory McCann), after a tragic accident for which Cavendish blames himself. A baby-faced and naïve emigrant, Cavendish is seemingly equally unaware of the many dangers that await him in unsettled Colorado territory as well as the bounty that has been placed on the heads of the Ross father and daughter.
Into the picture enters the mysterious gunman Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender), former outlaw and possible bounty hunter, who takes Cavendish under his wing. But is he a champion of the underdog and young love or simply using the naïve lover to lead him to a bountiful payday? They soon encounter Selleck’s sinister former gangleader, Payne (Ben Mendelsohn), who is clearly only interested in the $2K payday that awaits if he can deliver the bodies of the Rosses to the authorities
It’s in the slowly developing bond between young Cavendish and hardened Selleck as they cross the gorgeous and imposing countryside, as well as the sinister, slow-burn threat of Payne and his outlaw gang, where the film adeptly and clandestinely sinks it’s hooks into the patient viewer’s heart and mind. And while the film ends in a flawlessly executed, stylized cataclysmic gun battle worthy of the adjective “Peckinpahish,” it was in the unexpected emotional catharsis the film’s ending delivered that I fully realized the mastery of Maclean’s storytelling. A blend of classic Western, fairytale and stylized and stilted storytelling, Slow West had slowly but surely captured my mind and heart as the story methodically unfolded, leaving me in the end mildly stunned and awed, with images burned in my mind’s eye and with emotions welling up in my heart.