Slow West has brought together two of my favourite people; Michael Fassbender and Robbie Ryan. I could watch cinematographer Ryan’s work for hours (Catch Me Daddy, Fish Tank, Wuthering Heights), it’s effortlessly beautiful and elevates the film to another level. As for Fassbender? Where do you begin? Immensely talented, with an ever-growing impressive filmography, there would have to be a pretty solid reason as to why you wouldn’t be excited to see him team with Ryan again, this time in a Tarantino meets Coen Brothers styled Western.
Written and Directed by John Maclean, this is his feature-length debut and at only 90 minutes, it truly packs a punch. Dry humour, minimal dialogue, and a compelling albeit slightly implausible story, this tale is as simple as they come and is all the better for it. Kodi Smit-McPhee stars as Jay opposite Silas (Fassbender), a 16-year-old looking for a girl he is madly in love with who is living in exile somewhere out west. The Wild West is a treacherous place, and Silas offers to help him find “Rose”, as a rugged, no-nonsense veteran of the outdoors, he knows how to get him there in one-piece. This comes with a price, but what choice does Jay have?
They progress on their journey; crossing paths with all sorts that result in some unfavourable encounters that while are not significant in terms of the events themselves, they do help to shape our perceptions of the stubborn duo of Silas and Jay. Their motives are made clear from the beginning, but only to the audience and not to each other. It’s in knowing these factors, that the slow-building journey of gradually gaining ground on the end goal creates an air of unpredictability about what will take place. The tension is subtle, but it is felt by all.
Maclean has managed to do in 90 minutes what Tarantino couldn’t do in 3 hours, and that is create a simple, unsettling and gripping Western film that above all else, is quite accessible. It’s hard to believe that this is a debut feature, certainly a little rough around the edges, but when a film is as enjoyable as this and looks as good as it does, I’m not one to nit-pick; this is a truly underrated gem from 2015.