British writer/director/musician John Maclean’s 2015 debut feature is a glittering gem at the heart of the western genre. One that sings with originality and difference as art and lyrical storytelling combine to create a cinematic composition of haunting beauty. One that wraps the viewer in a journey of love and innocence against a backdrop of melancholy and violence. While injecting the classic road movie with a dose of wistful elegance and beauty rarely seen in the western genre. Ultimately paying homage to the genre it inhabits, while also transcending it by creating something new and distinctive.
The western genre (or sub-genre) has always been a loose vehicle for storytelling, enabling directors to play with its distinctive themes in creating new visions. A trait that has led to the genre adapting and changing in form over recent years. From The Sisters Brothers through to No Country for Old Men and True History of the Kelly Gang. The modern western has embraced human emotion, history, oppression and hope in equal measure. While slowly unpicking the simplistic and dated masculine stereotypes of the John Wayne era. Reinventing the public view of the genre, while reflecting our modern fears through a haze of history.
But despite this very few westerns have reflected the innocence and blind optimism of young love held within Slow West. A film that embodies the dangerous journeys love can lead an individual to take. While surrounding this with the brutality, lawlessness and attraction of America’s new frontier.
In essence MacLean provides us with a classic road movie, bringing together two souls from opposing social backgrounds. Their relationship one of convenience and necessity, that slowly grows into a more caring union. As love struck Scottish teen Joe (Kodi Smit-McPhee) embarks on a journey across the new frontier of America’s west in search of his outlawed love Rose. Bumping into gun for hire Silas (Michael Fassbender) along the way, as the realisation dawns that he can not safely complete his journey alone. Silas ultimately becoming a dangerous chaperone and mentor for the wistful teenager. His ulterior motive for offering support disguised by a protective demeanour. Ultimately leading both men to embark on a road trip built on unrequited love and dreams that hides a devastating truth.
Some may expect Slow West to reflect its title, in providing us with a long, plodding narrative. But this could not be further from truth, with a brisk and riveting 91-minute running time. It’s stunning cinematography framed by the Paramount 1:66:1 aspect ratio, focusing the viewers attention on each character. While the dramatic landscapes of America’s west find themselves represented by the equally stunning vistas of New Zealand. Ultimately creating a picture of utter beauty in sound, vision and performances. While dovetailing themes of unrequited love, coming of age and male bonding into a narrative that is both humorous, wistful and lyrical in construct.
Director: John Maclean