HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Slow West
HTS Overall Score:85
I have a huge love for westerns, whether they be made in the U.S. or not. I grew up watching John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Ernest Borgnine, Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall etc and have really enjoyed some of the foreign made westerns like “The Proposition” or “They Call Me Trinity”. I don’t care who makes them, but the old untamed wild west has a draw that captured the hearts of Americans (and people outside the U.S. as well) for decades. The western has seemed to have fallen out of popularity lately and good ones are few and far between (there are plenty of DTV westerns, but those aren’t exactly what I would consider top tier). “Slow West” is one of the few modern westerns that really sucks me into that feeling of excitement that I felt as a young kid. It’s incredibly patient and precise in its pacing, but that slow burn pays off in a fantastic end sequences that feels like a rattler stalking its prey. It creeps through the grace with what seems like a meandering and incredibly slow pace, but then once it is in range the strike rendered with a ferocity and speed that almost overwhelms you.
Traveling in 1800 something Colorado around the time of the civil war, young Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is traveling west from Scotland in pursuit of the love of his life, Rose Ross (Karen Pistorius). Rose and her father left from Scotland after Rose’s father ended up killing a nobleman, running from their homeland and taking up residence in the quiet state of Colorado. His naivety almost gets him killed after running into Indian killers, only to be saved by Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender), a rough and tumble outlaw who agrees to take the kid’s money to act as bodyguard until they find Rose and her father. The one small bit of information missing from Jay’s little picture of perfection is that Silas is also after Rose and her father. It seems there’s a $2,000 dead or alive bounty on the immigrants heads and Silas, along with quite a few other undesirables, are on their way to find them. Needing the boy to lead him directly to the girl and her father, Silas masquerades as an innocent westerner, just biding his time.
As they traverse the state of Colorado a begrudging sort of friendship forms between Silas and Jay. It’s never said, and never really needs to, but it’s still there none the less. After meeting up with, and narrowly escape from, a band of outlaws from Silas’ past, led by a Mr. Payne (Ben Mendelsohn) Silas fills Jay in on the reality of the situation. Men are coming, lots of men and there may not be much hope for Rose and her father. Desperately in love with the girl, Jay refuses to give up and with the help of Silas tries to make one last ditch effort to meet the girl he loves.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=48194[/img]The simplicity of the tale is really “Slow West’s” greatest blessing. It’s short and sweet, with an 84 minute runtime that doesn’t over stay its welcome. Silas and Jay are the main characters, but every character they interact with plays a part in the story, no matter how big or how small. Jay’s first interaction with death comes at the hands of a Swedish father who tries to rob a general store, and forces Jay to fire his weapon for the first time in his life. He’s seen death before, as Silas saves his life at the beginning of the film by putting a bullet in a murderous man, but he’s never actually experienced it before. This piece of reality begins to pull him out of the naïve worldview that he has become accustomed to. Each step of the journey is nothing but a stepping stone to get to his beloved Rose (and using flashbacks throughout the film we see his loving adoration, although it is also hinted at that there may be some sort of disappointment in that department when he actually meets up with her), and though he walks with his head in the clouds, slowly but surely he begins to realize the harshness of the west.
It’s interesting that pretty much NO ONE in the film is actually an American. Jay, Rose and her father are immigrants from Scotland, Silas is obviously a brit, and we have the Swedish store owner at the beginning. Mendelsohn and his gang may actually be the only ones who we would associate with a regular western. Shot in New Zealand, masking as Colorado, the setting is sort of surreal and just slightly off base. Something is different, something you can’t put your finger on, but if you realize that you’re not in Middle Earth you almost can feel like you’re in an alternate reality version of Colorado.
The film strikes a delicate balance between black tongue and cheek humor and a bleakly violent nature. One hand we have some wryly absurd moments (which seem to be intentional), such as Jay getting an arrow through the hand as well as the looniness of a couple on the run building a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. An assassin who is modeled after those creepy killers in modern day movies, carrying a special rifle that he caresses lovingly and gently feeds in bullets one at a time before he takes down his prey. Things that like make you chuckle nervously, but then it’s distinctly counterbalanced with moments of extreme violence. The part that surprised me is that the acts of violence are neither explicit nor seemingly impactful. However after the fact once you’ve really had time to let it sink in, you realize just how blead and horrifying those moments are, but ONLY in retrospect. The ending is a cacophony of classic western gun violence, but those moments of death that happen during the first hour of the film are the most poignant, and the director himself seems to think so as we see a slideshow at the end of the film, chronicling each and every death that happened. Whether on screen or off.
Rated R for violence and brief language
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=48202[/img]“Slow West” is filmed in an interesting aspect ratio of 1.66:1, one that used to be quite common, but is definitely NOT common in today’s cinema. The framing itself seems to be a throwback to the style of old, as is the western genre in general and is surprisingly effective. Colors are incredibly well saturated, giving life and vibrancy to everything in the picture, and I just marveled at how the colors contrasted each other. Earthy tones were side by side with brightly colored yellow flowers, or bright forest greens with the orange and brown colors of dried pine needles. Black levels looked incredibly (albeit a little bit of crush in a few spots) and I was absolutely amazed at the pinpoint clarity and detail of the picture. Simply put, this is one beautiful looking disk that accentuates the semi surreal nature of the film itself. Well done Lionsgate.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=48210[/img]The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track on “Slow West” is simply superb as it is everything you could ever want in a western. The back channels are used a LOT in the film, adding in sounds from a forest, including leaves crunching under foot, animals moving around in the background and the whinnying of horses. The gunshots have enormous weight behind them, especially in the last battle where the visceral sound of the gunshots are almost as impactful as the bullets are IN the movie. The dialog is clear and free from any distortions and the wide dynamic range complements the change from soft and quite to explosive and aggressive during the final act. It’s nuanced, and very detailed to say the least and certainly one of my favorite western tracks in quite some time.
• On Strange Land: Making of "Slow West" Featurette
• Deleted Scenes
“Slow West” is a precise and steadily paced western, that takes its time to come to fruition, but once it does, oh boooooy. It plays out almost like a fantasy, with the sense detected something off beat, but not being able to place it and the little winks and nods throughout the film (watch the wanted posters on the walls very carefully) are just subtle enough to almost miss. Probably one of the best western’s I’ve seen in a long time, Director John MacLean does a fantastic job with his debut feature film and the performances by the fantastic Michael Fassbender and the up and comer Kodi Smit-McPhee are just icing on the cake. A great audio and video presentation make this a no brainer, despite the limited extras. HIGHLY recommended.
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn
Directed by: John MacLean
Written by: John Maclean
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 AVC
Audio:English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 84 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: July 7th 2015
Buy Slow West On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Highly Recommended
More about Mike