Slow West : A Film Review

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Slow West. UK/NZ 1hr 24mins 2015. Cert. 15 Thriller Western.
Director John Maclean, Cast includes Ben Mendelssohn! Michael Fassbinder, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Rory McCann, Cary Pistorious, Brooke Williams, Edwin Wright, Jeffrey Thomas, Madeline Sami, Andrew Robert, Michael Walley,
Go West
A 16 year old Scotsman barely grown into his lanky frame sets out to pursue a love across the classes and across the Atlantic. His background is Cavendish and he is alone, a surviving aristocrat. Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) journeys across the American plains towards the West.
It is the late 1800’s let’s say 1870 and by this time he would have had choices which for the purposes of this story are rejected. He could have joined numerous Scots Irish groups as a driver and forged and travelled with safer links.

For the sake of this preposterous narrative he is already nearing his destination of Colorado. Perhaps he got of a train in Denver or Boulder, such is his good fortune of trekking alone while Indian territory and insurrection abound. The seceding of the states took place in 1860.
Confederacy was to carry forward many ills as far as British ‘settlers’ were concerned.
The high ranges of hills cross the cinematic gorgeous backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.
Given New Zealand to work with cinematographer Robbie Ryan transforms New Zealand convincingly to be showy and big picture effective.
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On a small budget, grafted together by John Maclean and Michael Fassbinder as Silas Selleck whose previous work together was small making this a first mainstream big picture in scale which delivers for its craft-work.

He, JM, has made band videos for his music career with The Beta Band and often the sharp short shot is a kind of music ingredient which he calls on to make an altogether obvious point. The plainer it is the better it seems.

Then there are the cinematic references which is indulgent at the best of times and unnecessary flannel at the worst. The singing trio on route, the skeletal leviathan remains on the valley between mountains, the incidental absurdities. All are there offering little of cogency to a narrative.
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The join up between Silas and Jay is central and into it enters the scalawag Cowboy, Ben Mendelsohn as Payne – no heads up there then – in the mere costume affectation of a fur coat stolen from Granny Henderson of Cullybackey no doubt, as an erstwhile – what else – sock to Fassbinder’s foot. He is unconvincing as a malevolent bully – the down payment for the role as such – but excels at attempting to upstage Fassbinder in their limited scripted parts.
they claim to have aims similar but different and i would not argue because it is as a gang leader BM acts out a fantasy role which his life expectancy goes beyond his cerebral count.

Silas is as we know a bounty hunter. A competitor also arrives in a sub-plot.
The intensity is nowhere near that of frontier or discovery movies.
you may not accept the comparison but this film, Slow West is essentially about self discovery. The grown ups (Silas and the merry band are all outliers) so it is no shift of imagination to take it to the high seas.?
The Bounty, admittedly entirely different, (boats adrift, seas and chronic conditions) which I recently watched again.
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So many levels of complexity with character and incredible levels of acting at its best, – Antony Hopkins in his prime possibly, Mel Gibson acting with humility which he later lost maybe were evident.
Silas is able to extract Jay from an improbable word exchange quickly entering killing and body scavenging. He steps in, off frame and Jay is rescued. Then he forges the mentor, guide role which Jay entrusts him to.
The morality of not killing a sixteen year old is with him as a part allowance in ethical consideration.

Jay signs him up as his needed guide as the story unfold sol with more embarrassing crossed paths. Still they bond over the leviathan carcass as miniature scale earners.
Small print
Another little episode involves a random ‘Dutchman (?)’ who is another lone traveller of a writerish kind, one who is not lacking in courage but falls over his own propriety.
Jay asks for guidance here when estranged from his own hired hand Silas.
This is another sidetrack of black comedic note.
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The playing of each actor fluctuates. Sometimes MF is accustomed to being on target with the complexity of the story he is conveying. It is when he is using stillness. Pure Clint.
Then again sometimes westerns go long without dialogue. The camera follows unobtrusively. Not this one, in his knickerbocker glory (flesh is not displayed much to his annoyance) when a flood washes them – a scene(s) as convincing as a studio set down the studio lot – strung out like a washing line literally the joke is lank.

Bounty of a different kind
There is no debate about whether Michael Fassbinder can act. there simply has not been a robust enough character for him to perform. The likes of Niall Tobin, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole come to mind as actors whose skills were kept in store until they reached a part suddenly Harris and O’Toole were exceptionally out of the blocks and Tobin was around with little of consequence until later life. How is it going to be for Michael Fassbinder?
Does it matter to him? Is it possible these days to become a ‘comet’ of an actor?
The reason the subject came up is because i reminded myself of Antony Hopkins forgotten piece the in The Bounty and all the outstanding performances around him. It just falls in place.

A Le Carre piece perhaps. Alec Guinness remembered years later for his role above all in Tinker Tailor. The cadences are remembered through the actors provision of inhabiting the character of an exceptional reading brought forward by the writer. In both instances the originating author let go of the screenplay and the story became cinematic gold.
Understatement
Some spontaneously funny moments arrive and go without overstaying however which makes this doubly inordinate. There are the sub-plots, on the subject of bounty hunting, a character, name forgotten. This ‘Bill Stickers’ ‘Bill Posters’ whatever, concerns how notoriety travels and how to manage it. Comic relief from the violence except the quickening, advancing abattoir of dead bodies spurs on relentlessly.

The tragedy is only a downward spiral from the very first non accidental killing. The film manages a very bleak tragedy which is corporeal and of a kind which startles. The story moves outward and leaves a question of discovery and recovery unanswered.

Conclusion ###3+
When it comes to a story there is indeed quite a weave of one but it is remarkably short of realism given it has core western ingredients.

The given – he has reached Colorado unscathed – is landlocked by the arrival of Bounty Hunter Silas (Michael Fassbender), – Silas, wily old fox has lightened upon him on his own journey in basically the same direction except he knows we’re it is best to find the thing Jay is looking for, for they are one and the same.

Flashback tells the story of why Jay has found himself chasing the love he constructed in his proprietorial heart. He has accustomed himself to seeking out, through a modicum of guilt Rose (Caren Pistorius) and her father Michael McCann.

There is entertainment aplenty in this freshing of a genre, the last one I liked concerned dead people burials etc. Gruesome also.

This has a very violent ending sequence which sorts matters out as far as a conclusion is concerned so do not worry about feeling short changed in that regard.
take it for what it is as a traditional Western scoping of the nerve endings with lots of unintended consequences running in and out with very little to learn about real life except the telling is a reminder of our potentiality (existing – intact) to be entirely wicked and stupid and never satiated or satisfied by what is in front of us.

John Graham

26 June 2015

Belfast

Opens tonight at QFT Belfast for a weeks worth of scheduled screenings and on general release.
It is sure to be popular.

if you are into art movies then check the work on Youtube of

Lílian Campesato: “V Encontro Mulheres na Música Experimenta” whose take of Black and white film with her soundscapes makes for a memorable set of pieces which is explained through her medium of Brazilian. I have set a few questions to her on the work and poised a few intangibles!

Take a look.

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