John Maclean’s Sundance-storming directorial debut Slow West isn’t your typical western. Filmed in the drop-dead-gorgeous surroundings of New Zealand’s immaculate mountain ranges, and starring Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee as unlikely travel buddies, it’s the tale of one love struck teen’s quest to travel the length of 1870s America to find his first love.
Young Scot Jay Cavendish (Smit-McPhee) is a man on a mission. After his crush Rose (Caren Pistorious) flees to America with her father, the smitten lad sets out to track her down. On his tod in dangerous surroundings with just a naff looking travel guide and a few suitcases to his name, Michael Fassbender’s grizzly-looking outlaw, Silas Selleck – sniffing out a reward that hangs over Rose’s head – agrees to act as his guide. An unlikely bond develops between the travelling twosome, but whether it’s some bow-and-arrow carrying Native Americans or a group of pesky bounty hunters, trouble’s never far away in the West.
Slow West is an unusual concoction. It’s a western mixed with a big dollop of unrequited love – like a Scottish-themed Romeo and Juliet tale (although Juliet isn’t too keen… ) – but fails to maximise its quirky potential on either front. Smit-McPhee’s blissful ignorance and youthful charm (like the confident class nerd chasing the hot cheerleader) counteracts Fassbender’s all-too-quiet outlaw-type, and manages to create a strangely alluring chemistry between the pair. Although the paternal bond that begins to seap through to the surface doesn’t quite convince the way it thinks it does.
Poignant in a soppy, puppy dog eyes sort of way, while maintaining a sporadic sense of deadliness, its dark sense of humour strikes you – Tarantino-like – in the most unexpected of moments, as arrows pierce hands and bodies go flying. Gorgeous to look at, the film lives up to its title; there’s little urgency or rush, yet in its short running time it builds up nicely to an understated, yet brutal finale.