Fassbender Leads Stellar Cast In The Gritty “Slow West” IFFB: Independent Film Festival Boston Reviews

Film: Slow West
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn, and Caren Pistorius
Rate R
Director: John Maclean

As many of you know, I love westerns. I don’t care if it’s the old studio staged John Ford films like “Stagecoach,”  or part of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Western series. It doesn’t matter to me because Westerns are amazing. Recently, directors like the Cohen Brothers have mirrored Jim Jarmusch’s “Dead Man;” turning the Western genre into an experiment. These films are gritty, obscure, and don’t necessarily need to make sense to tell a cohesive story. This week’s film, “Slow West” was the first film I saw at the Independent Film Festival Boston, and follows in the footsteps of Jarmusch and The Cohen Brothers. Let’s find out if it’s any good shall we?

Kodi Smit-McPhee stars as Jay Cavendish, a 16 year old Scottish boy riding desperately through the plains in search of his one true love Rose (Caren Pistorius). What Jay doesn’t know is that Rose and her father John (Rory McCann) are fugitives being hunted by a team of bounty hunters lead by a man named (Payne). The further Jay travels the deeper he falls into trouble, at least until a mysterious man named Silas (Michael Fassbender) becomes his chaperone. The more Jay learns about Silas, the more fearful he becomes of his new traveling companion.

There are many things I like about this film but, if I had to pick one thing, it would be Fassbender. along with his performance in this movie (which is exceptional), I admire how hard he worked to get this film made. Fassbender served as Executive Producer, as well as one of the films leads. However he insisted that Kodi Smit McPhee be top billed. Trust me when I say that forgoing billing rights is mighty humble. 
This may be Fassbender's best role since “12 Years A Slave”. Yes, Silas has mystery and Fassbender knows how to play this role. Yet neither of those things make Fassbender good or even great in this film. There’s small characteristics that Fassbender instills in Silas that really make him tick. Silas is always level headed. He never gets angry, and that could possibly lead to speculation of why he can always win in a fight. There’s one scene in particular where Silas is whistling during a gun fight as a form of distraction. Those little details are what makes this film great.

Kodi Smit-McPhee was the vocal lead in “ParaNorman,” a film that I’ve gone on record as loving and claiming it to be one of the greatest children’s films of all time. Smit-McPhee brings an equally layered performance to Jay, just as he did with “ParaNorman”. What makes Jay a bafflingly complex character is his perception of the situation he’s in. He only see’s good and bad, however he has trouble of distinguishing who is bad from who is good. 

I’ve thought about this film quite a bit after seeing it. We are to believe that Rose is Jay's true love, but she isn’t. Without giving too much away, I’ll say this: Caren Pistorius’ Rose is older than Jay, and she sees he has a crush, something which she exploits. And as for the “Villain,” Payne, he’s just doing his job as a bounty hunter. Jay doesn’t care if Rose is evil because he’s a boy with a crush. Throughout the film, Smit-McPhee makes Jay’s naivety take center stage .That’s why it’s such a great performance. It's full of teenage angst and dumb blind love, but it’s also some of the finest acting I’ve seen in some time. 

“Slow West” was directed by John Maclean (from the Scottish musical group the Beta Band). You may laugh that a keyboard player made a western, but you’ll be surprised to learn that the singer Nick Cave wrote a western called “The Proposition.” Acclaimed “Dead Man” director Jim Jarmusch was also a bass player. I don’t know what it is about musicians and westerns, but they sure know how to deliver great films. Maclean’s vision is very raw and experimental. The night scenes are over exposed with saturation. The violence is always done off screen, and the aftermath is revealed later. I know Maclean did both of these cuts for budgetary issues, but they enhance the film.

This entire movie is highly underrated and not receiving the credit it deserves. What I loved about it was how it reminded me of “Dead Man,”another western that went under the radar. I’m not sure if Maclean tried to replicate a gritty western of “Dead Man,” nor do I care. This is a stand alone entry into the western genre. Everything about this film is fantastic, the cast, the story, and Maclean’s experimental vision. “Slow West” was one of the highlights of the IFFB. It’s now playing on the festival circuit, and will open on May 15th in select theaters and DirectTV. This is a must see film.

scott kurlandComment