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Slow West - review

May 27, 2015 Film & TV

In one of the most tense and memorable scenes in Slow West, bounty hunter Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender) shaves young Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) with a gleaming cut-throat razor.

“Survival ain’t just how to skin a jack rabbit,” Silas opines as he pulls the blade across Jay’s skin. “It’s knowing when to bluster and when to hush. When to take a beating and when to strike.”

It’s advice writer and first-time director John Maclean should have taken himself when filming his neo-Western set in 1870s Colorado and filmed in Scotland and the South Island’s Mackenzie Country. For all his obvious ability, Maclean doesn’t seem to understand when to milk a scene for tension and when he can undercut it with a gag.

The shaving scene is a good example, given that one of the most interesting things about the film is the pairing of the rugged, hyper-masculine Michael Fassbender with the slightly built, epicene Kodi Smit-McPhee in a quest to find the latter’s girlfriend. It’s easy to imagine Silas jumping the younger male, especially after Jay tells Silas he thinks he’s a lonely man, or Silas drawing blood deliberately to make a man of him. But they are interrupted and the scene fizzles.

When Silas offers to act as a guide and protector to the teenaged Jay while he searches for his beloved Rose (Caren Pistorius), who has fled from Scotland to Colorado with her father, Jay has no idea there is a bounty on his girlfriend’s head. The film turns on Silas’ motives: is he really a protective gun for hire or is he simply using Jay to lead him to Rose?

The pair are stalked by a posse of outlaws led by Payne (Ben Mendelsohn) who are also looking for Rose, but unfortunately, after an episodic collection of set-pieces — a deadly hold-up in a store, a Congolese group singing a love song in French, etc — it’s very hard to care who gets to the girl first (who is holed up in a wood cabin so pristine it looks as if it has been recently placed on the prairie by Lockwood Homes).

Slow West has amusing moments but it is never funny enough to qualify as a comedy and the plot is too weak and episodic to make it particularly dramatic. It’s watchable but very forgettable.


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