The magnificent Michael Fassbender stars as a cowboy with suspicious motives in “Slow West.” As if this weren’t enough, it’s a strange and wonderful movie. While a Western in the traditional sense, this dark yet sprightly story is so much more. Concerning the quest of a very young and inexperienced Scotsman pursuing his lost love when she flees to the American West, it takes on the quality of a fairy tale at times, while never losing the lens of the Old West at the end of the 19th century.
Obviously Fassbender is fantastic as Silas, a confident and canny loner who offers to help young Jay Cavendish pursue his lost love, Rose. We find out Jay isn’t the only one pursing her, and that Silas might have ulterior motives, beyond the money Jay pays him for his help. It is Kodi Smit-McPhee as the ethereal, intelligent Jay that makes this film so special and memorable, and the effect he has on Silas is the central drama of the story.
Cavendish, a Scottish aristocrat, is more than just a fish out of water as he forges haphazardly through the perils of the American West. He is more like a creature from another planet, but in a deeply relateable way. Also, although he clearly is physically unlikely to survive on his own without Silas, he is brave, and only accepts Silas’ help because it’s the most pragmatic and sensible decision. He’s a romantic, and this gives him a purity that saves him from being pathetic.
This film is reminiscent of a Coen brothers film in that there are moments of comedy amidst violence; at one point, salt literally pours from overhead into someone’s wound. But there is a magical, uncanny feeling to these moments that would, in a Coen brothers movie, have been closer to a cartoon. The film itself is gorgeously shot; its beauty falls somewhere between realistic and imagined, again in such a subtle way as to be unsettlingly familiar yet bizarre.
Perhaps the very title “Slow West” describes the film more than I initially realized. The characters are archetypes, yet vividly real, the setting is the West we think we know, yet slowly and surely rewritten and experienced anew, its strange familiarities creating a tone that is all the more otherworldly. It is the best, most memorable and unusual film I have seen in a long time.
“Slow West” is currently available to rent.
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