Slow and steady doesn’t always win ya races, people.
16-year-old Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is currently stranded 19th Century frontier America. For some odd, inexplicable reasons, the woman that he grew up to know, learn from, and love (Caren Pistorius), has vanished. Because of this heartbreak, Silas figures that the only way to fix it all would to actually set out on a journey to find her, once and for all. Little does Jay know, the West can be a pretty rough and ragged place to travel through, and if you’re not careful, you could find yourself in some very tense, life-or-death situations. That’s why when Jay runs into the company of Silas (Michael Fassbender), a charming and smart outlaw that seems to collect bounties anywhere he goes, he wants to stick with him in hopes that his life will be protected. The only problem know is that Jay eventually finds out that his old love is know wanted dead or alive for a murder she may not have even committed in the first place, and now, nearly every dirty, mean cowboy in the West is gunning after her. It’s up to Jay to make sure that he finds her before it’s too late, whereas it’s up to Silas to make sure that the boy does, but that he also gets his money, as well.
Slow is exactly right. With a movie like Slow West, it’s hard to be mad at it for what it is: A slow, melancholic Western that doesn’t over-stay its welcome too long, nor does it ever really seem to find its own footing. With first-time writer and director John M. Maclean, it’s clear that there’s a certain look and feel to this film that’s supposed to matter to the story, to these characters, and especially to our own general feeling to the film as a whole. While it’s easy for me to say that Maclean clearly has an eye for visuals, it doesn’t translate as well to the rest of the flick.
But, then again, it’s hard to get on a movie that features not only Michael Fassbender, but Ben Mendelsohn as well.
Two for the price of one, people!
With Fassbender’s Silas character, we get the sort of soft-spoken, but charming-as-all-hell outlaw character that we so often see in these kinds of Westerns, however, they mostly feel like parodies of themselves. While they’re supposed to be taken seriously, these kinds of characters have been practically done to death by now, that no matter how cool, calm and collected you are, the character you’re playing may still come off as corny. However, this is not a problem that gets in the way of Fassbender, one of today’s most talented actors.
As Silas, Fassbender proves that it’s sometimes best to say two words, rather than to say 15 or so, and yet, still get your point across. Sure, it’s safe to say that this Silas character seems like he knows it all, been there, done that, and has seen whatever the world threw in front of his eyes, but Fassbender plays it in such a manner, that it almost didn’t matter to making this character work; Fassbender just finds his own ways in doing so. He could either be shooting people, calming gunslingers down, or smokin’ a stogie in the middle of a gun-battle and no matter what, Silas would still be cool, without ever seeming like he’s trying too hard.
And of course, having Ben Mendelsohn just show up and do his thing is great, and that’s how he is here. Not much different from before, except to say that there’s still an unsettling feel surrounding him where you don’t know whether or not he’s actually a cold-hearted killer, or just a guy looking for a quick money-grab. Either way, there’s something interesting to his menace, and that never seemed to go away here for him.
Problem is, Maclean doesn’t really find a way to make sure that the plot services both of these guys’ talents, as well as Smit-McPhee’s.
For one, the plot is simple at best, meandering at its worst. Whereas some will be pleased to see that Maclean sort of just lets his movie move along at its own pace, find its own direction, and even figure out what story it wants to work with, to me, it didn’t quite gel well. Constantly, it felt like Maclean didn’t know where he wanted to go with this story and didn’t have much of anything mapped-out to work with. So, instead of writing something down in concrete, he just let the movie go on and on, without much of a rhyme, reason, or direction.
Sometimes, this works if the movie itself seems to be a fun piece of random, but Slow West isn’t that kind of movie. Sure, it has some moments that are tense, including a gun-packed finale that’s surely the highlight of the whole movie, but overall, it’d be hard to make sense of just what’s going on and why. I’ve seen some people refer to this movie as “a dream”, and while I agree with some of those statements, I still don’t think it works in the movie’s favor; it never seemed like it deserved to be seen as a dream, no matter how many random characters popped in and out.
Then again, it all comes back to the fact that this is a Western that ends on a high note, with guns a blazin’, bullets a flyin’, and people a droppin’. To me, that’s always a fine time to watch, whether it’s a Western, a regular, old action movie, or a family drama. And if that shows anything, it’s that Maclean, while not fully ready for more and more pictures, definitely has a future in just filming action sequences, no matter where they’re taking place.
Because lord knows I’ll watch them. With or without a lame story.
Consensus: Slow West takes its good old time to get where it needs to get going, and because of that, feels meandering and random, but still doesn’t take away from solid performances and bits of action.
7 / 10