the Old West was a violent place, but what could you expect if everyone brought
over their grudges from the Old Country. Rose Ross and her father are a case in
point. There was a good reason they left Scotland in a hurry. Unfortunately, a
lovesick lad from home might very well lead all that trouble straight to their
doorstep in John Maclean’s Slow West (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
young, naïve Jay Cavendish considers Ross the love of his life, but it is unclear
just what he is to her. Nevertheless, he has an address and is determined to “save”
the lass. Traveling through the rugged Colorado plains is a dangerous proposition,
but Cavendish finds an ostensive protector. Silas Selleck will try to keep the
boy alive, but he has different ideas for Ross. Unbeknownst to Cavendish, a
price has been put on the heads of the Ross father and daughter. Selleck is the
sort of man who collects on them.
course, he is hardly the only hunting the Rosses. Selleck’s old acquaintance
Payne is also on the trail. It is safe to say their rivalry is not the friendly
sort. Payne would have no problem killing anyone in his way, whereas Selleck
genuinely starts to like Cavendish. Obviously this produces seriously
conflicted feelings on his part. Regardless, it will all inevitably lead to a
violent standoff of some sort. After all, it is the Old West.
this point, it is too late to call Slow
West a revisionist western, because its in-your-face critique of Manifest
Destiny represents the current official story of westward expansion. Despite a
few heavy-handed sequences (to put it mildly), Maclean still constructs a
compelling men vs. men tale, set against a harsh but breathtaking natural
backdrop (in this case, it is New Zealand stepping in for the Colorado plains).
Slow West is also a heck of
an example of how much the right wardrobe can add to a film. In the future, Ben
Mendelsohn will probably be known simply as “the dude in the fur coat.” Costume
designer Kirsty Cameron makes everyone look period appropriate, but that
enormous trapper coat adds additional layers of attitude and Mendelsohn’s characterization
film also marks the third cinematic collaboration between Maclean and Michael
Fassbender and serves as a reminder why it is potentially perilous for critics
and film journalists to ignore shorts films, like their previous Man on a Motorcycle and the BAFTA Award
winning neo-noir Pitch Black Heist.
Fassbender is instantly credible as a high plains drifter and he keeps cranking
up Selleck’s intensity as they approach the Ross homestead. Even though Kodi
Smit-McPhee’s vacant screen presence is highly problematic in any film charging
admission, it sort of works for the clueless and immature Cavendish. However,
the real discovery in Slow West is
the forceful work of Caren Pistorius as Rose Ross.
Slow West features some truly
impressive technical craftsmanship, particularly Robbie Ryan’s cinematography,
which is big in every way. Maclean also stages a terrific gunfight, bringing to
mind the climax of Kevin Costner’s criminally under-appreciated Open Range. Recommended for fans of post-Little Big Man westerns, Slow West opens this Friday (5/15) in
New York, at the Angelika Film Center.
Labels: Ben Mendelsohn, Michael Fassbender, Western Cinema