I didn’t forget it’s Friday today! Woo! This week’s movie is Slow West, or as I call it: A Study In Deep Focus and The Beauty of The American West’s Landscape.
Slow West (2015) Dir. John Maclean Writ. John Maclean Stars: Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee Rated R 84 mins. Western, Action IMDB 7.0
To start off, I didn’t even know this movie came out this year. I hadn’t heard of it a single time until I saw it on Amazon Prime. I read the reviews that all said it was pretty slow and boring, so I skipped it. Then I read an article calling it a sleeper hit and saw it was one of the top movies of the year based on critics reviews and decided to give it another shot.
And WOW I’m glad I did!
Slow West tells the story of Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a Scottish teenager, as he tries to cross the American West to find the girl he loves, Rose (Caren Pistorius) and her father after they fled Scotland. At the beginning of the movie, he runs into Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender), an outlaw, who agrees to take him west safely if he pays him. Along the way, we find out that Silas is a bounty hunter who has recently left a band of outlaw bounty hunters and we learn why Rose and her father are on the run with a bounty on their heads to begin with.
This movie is very beautifully shot. Even before we get into the story, I have to freak out with you all about the cinematography! The long shots of the landscape are probably unnecessary, but showing both the vastness and the beauty of the American West (which is funny because I’m pretty sure this was shot in New Zealand… I can’t be SURE without looking it up – and I’m too lazy for that – but it looks like New Zealand to me, and trust me, I’ve watched all of the appendices from the Middle Earth movies, so I recognize New Zealand) really brings a sense of the lengths to which Jay is going to find Rose and her father. His journey from place to place and the desolation of some of the landscape really gives the viewer a sense of the immensity of his task.
Like I said in the intro, not only is the landscape highly featured, but deep focus is used quite a lot in this movie. It’s an interesting stylistic choice, but I have always loved the way deep focus can make something really clear. For some shots, you can tell they cheated deep focus with a split diopter, but it’s still the same effect. For example, there’s a shot of them riding in front of mountains and, keeping the mountains in focus as well as the riders, it allows for such beautiful shots. As for the split diopter scenes, there is a shot where Silas’s gun is pulled on someone and, in the background, Jay’s gun is pulled on Silas, and you can see both of them in clear focus. It’s a trick you see used in a lot of different films where it’s used to show emotion on both faces of the people in a shot. It’s a fun trick to see used in a western.
I can sort of see why traditional western audiences may not have liked this one as much, but I love westerns and I love this too. I think it’s the more artistic nature. There are a lot of shots that are clearly just there to play up the artistry. There are also a lot of dialogue exchanges that seems to be there just for the sake of some clever writing, but I like it so I don’t find that to be a problem.
The story itself is a little lacking. It’s not bad, or poorly executed, but it’s a very basic premise. Boy Seeks Girl With Help of Bandit. That’s the whole story. You never learn much about Silas, you don’t learn too much about Jay apart from his mom is a lady and he loves Rose. You don’t learn much about the band of outlaws either, apart from them being bad guys. But all in all, it’s a short movie. It’s only 84 minutes, so a simple story isn’t that bad.
The acting is really good. It’s not AMAZING, but that’s only because of little nit-picky things. Smit-Mcphee’s accent, for example, isn’t that great. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. And I THOUGHT Fassbender’s accent sucked, which to be fair, is very normal for him. He’s not great at accents. However, late in the movie he says his father is buried in Ireland and his mother in Canada, suggesting he and his mother may have been immigrants, so the Irish endings on all his American words make sense, that way. Other than the accents, they both do a pretty great job. There aren’t any super hard acting shots, which is where most people get their praise for acting, but the consistency they both show is really great. They both really embody their characters at all points, no matter what, and it’s really impressive. Over-acting is easy, but subtle acting is where it’s REALLY impressive.
All in all, in spite of the reservations I had going in because of the viewer reviews I’d read, I have to agree with the critics here. This was a good movie. It was a great way to spend my night.
My Rating: 7/10