Slow West : A Film Review


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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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


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.

Frank : A Film Review

Stage emptyi
Frank. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson. UK 2014. 1hr 35 mins.
Cast Michael Fassbinder, Domhnall Glesson, Magie Gyllenhall.
Inspired by Frank Sideebottom, loosely.
Who might be Frank?
The precipice Frank Sidebottom clings onto is at the edge of a wounded island. He holds on by isolation which gathered people in as his absence of apparent personality was directed into his enlarged squashed sphere of a paper dome, painted as a boy who resided within on the body of an apparent grown man. The shut out just beyond his skin.

Depictions of persona seeking interpretation in extremis of one kind or another are fairly common as a movie trait. Unlike Her and Under the Skin (previous reviews see search box top right!) this concerns a real life and one that tragically ended only a few years back.The late Chris Sievely figuratively inspired this film; it is a fictional used account of an experience had by Jon Ronson in encountering Frank on tour and mistakenly updated through a process of which an only merit might have been to appeal to a wider contemporary audience. The film industry has been doing it in spades for decades. When Jon turns up as a recruit to the Hotel the gig is at we are ushered in by a Stage Door sign following a nighttime colonnade long shot for underage viewers presumably a directorial aid to ease in the plot.
The problem in this case is that the magic and mystery is of token imbecilic characterisations which only in denouement scores any wrasp of emotional context with which you can relate, an occasion you could hear a pin drop as eyes saw some redemption in their own thoughts.
Head Issue
What results overall is I found a puffball of inflated refracted ego taken up as an artistic source sucked up by all others around this central challenged person. The person a mere figure whose meaning was fabricated within himself as a form of defence for his fearfulness.

Filming a central character whose stik is his overenlarged false head is idiotic, quickly through the limit of sans expression, well one, makes the character as flat as a discarded coke.

His person the real Chris acting Frank acting Frank returns here embodied by Michael Fassbinder. A modern suited mod might be the real Frank. The one he flees from and is the side of Frank at the bottom of his creative genius. The musical side. It only mediates as part of his creative self. Not a big head by any stretch.
Fassbinder flaps his arms, has enormous hands, for an
unfit? city boy this does not sit well nor does the affected American accent convince for the Northern soul boy Frank possibly once was. He limply droops his hands down the guitar in desperation for effect. Lame is not the word. The eccentricity is of the UK kind not remotely USA.
A Story Issues
Jon Ronson on whose story of Frank Is based and has co-scripted with Peter Straughan happened upon the tour of post punk, avant garde, new wave, post colonial, Brit pop, Chemical Brothers outboard motor combo and copped for a role as a band member with Frank recruiting him to play keys.
One character Don – Scoot McNairny is an anthem in himself and this character is the one Jon engages with first. He is deeply troubled. We are deeply sympathetic. He could be a character from centuries past.
As this is 2014 the writers have decided to ditch what could have been an era based movie, one actually relating to the media around Frank in his fate and the music scene, where Brit Pop, Chemical Brothers and Oasis or pre Oasis is were Frank marks on the page and where he was living off.
This is not the same page and frivolises the artist it given it is out there, now on our plain, it can maybe give some new credibility to the actual events and work this film misses as it is both wishful and arch. Ronson as Radiohead.
None of the scenes are believable, except the idea firstly of retreat in which the writing had some sense of idiom. The proceedings are simply methods of filling in the character of the band members. The habitat is hobbit like and spread on the counter pane of Ireland’s redeeming scenery. Even a handy lake conveys tempestuousness when summoned by Lenny Abrahamson. Avant Garde but not Warhol or anything near the epoch those gathered seem to think might materialise.
Then and the Cast
This band had a van and gigs of some kind, unscheduled, unpaid, and sparsely attended one imagined and an other catching vibes of stardust and fortune hindered only by the wrong kind of unmusicality.
In effect except for a song about a checkout girl at …. little traction became of the group Frank founded and here known as The Soronprfbs, band manager ex. roadie Don is a sidekick played as noted above memorably by Scoot McNairny, percussionist Nana very laidback and kooky, Carla Azar, bassist Frenchman Baraque also cool, a French thing happening I guess, Francois Civil and detached, temperamental, possibly reformed psychotic, (my imagination had to adopt a trope to get by the lack of content MG had to play with) theremin player Clara, Maggie Gyllenhall.
The witness to this is Ronson played by Domhnall Glesson who apparently wrote a few of the tunes heard through the film. He is excellent as Jon Ronson providing for the self penned deprecating niavity to play with for Glesson.
He gets the youthful Ronson tripping forward in life taking on the unusual normally eschewed by the mainstream and grasp of the steep slope that is music stardom is naive and at opposite poles to the avant-apocalyptic, post kindergarten, mancunian mental thrashing confines of the band he has just joined. His skills as a storyteller are journalistic and played out in a simplified demeanour in the Ronson of Men who Stare at Goats et al fame.
Makes an alternative diet to men who actually use goats for target practice before becoming rank and file terrorists I suppose and killing fields.
Then some Art Existed
Chris Sievely was many representations of Frank Sidebottom and was continually using the everyday and miscellany that growing up in an industrialized city throws at you but that is an outside story and develops later than the films timeline. So in his new life he is again on screen and beaming down grinning at the absurdity of it all from the future?
The blend of characters are attracted to Frank because he seems their ideal alter ego and he is forgiving of this as it gives him control.

This provides the friction of conflicting surfaces. The surface of his face is pivotal nondescript insouciance. That becomes their reality and hinge on the world. Unwittingly Jon takes on the role of grounding the characters in this plot. For Frank recognises in him the desired escapism Jon pursues also.
It threw at him a disintegration in values, of quality in objects, replication, consumerism which Frankly overwhelmed him most of the time.
Frank or Jon?
For plot we get a tale between two wounded countries. USA. Ireland.
Not exactly a road trip but enough plot to hang a prairie moment on.
Reality passes
A gallery exhibition at The Chelsea Space in 2006 showed in a kind of retrospective, his formation as an artist in conflict. The society in which he later performed commissioned television shows of his persona and like a ventriloquist dummy were trivial and disposable TV fodder, it felt he cashed in his chips there.
Jon Ronson being caught by the shill, Don, allowed a sage normal mentality to inhabit the band. For a change. The character portrayed by Fassbinder is overtly visual and has challenged others who accept his engagement into believing art is formed. Performance art relies on reaction.
The artist finds …X and with this creates without perceived outcome …. Not X. the viewer now the artist plus this …. Not X. With me so far?
Well it is best to describe it as unrepeatable and transitory.
With a band though each song is like a cigarette. Finished you await the next one and the addiction can only be satiated at certain times with the same afterglow melancholia as when you sought it out.
Restless Gestures
I once went to a shed somewhere in the backlands of Surrey to see Ten Pole Tudor and took part in a performance which had most of the attendees marching conga like, after the tall pied piper, which is precisely what we went for and he created the occasion for. Who killed Bambi got murdered several times that night.
If your not related to Henry VIII then TPT has it you cannot create the avant-garde. There was wit and culture, theatre and performance involved as a swipe at the punk despots who thought the world would change if they spat and stamped on a nerd before going to catch a bus or train into the restless suburbs. The only trouble came when the juice ran out. Try margarine.
Frank Sidebottom and his inventor Chris Sievely had an English affliction thing going on about sheds and so the film takes up the adventure where instead of going to a gig the band retreat to a ‘shed’ (the retreat by the Irish lake) to put down their experimental music.
True to the character Frank, instead a performance ensues in which real life is well, replaced by another form of real life. The spaces to be filled and not left empty.
It is a pity the real true life is not here.

Like beads of polystyrene the adherence is everything and once detached blow hither and. The film has that flimsy feel but the acting is what solidly endures and the habit of acting is what features most for me. How each portrayal is drawn and how Fassbinder for instance has little to play around with and gamely comes up with some plausible shapes. Likewise the remainder of the band. Domhnall Glesson is thoroughly at work in the co star role which kind of eclipses oddly that of the main man Frank.
Stephen Rennick populates the film with a pleasant, sans avant garde asides, while Lenny Abrahamson does a good job with close ups and shuffles by with a grocery delivery.
The Frank we see is not the Frank we sort of know and it is never intended to be anything close.
Without it pretending to be anything other than a light black comedy; the makers front it by claiming ahead of the film in material let’s get this out of the way; this not the Frank Sidebottom story pitched so it is much less, it fails as that being a mish mash of the graver aspects with skeletal remains of character playing, albeit executed and aided by the actors own gifts. Like acting the film, Frank, is a persona about not being anything.I just regard it as not on era. I may even tweet out the fact I reviewed it. #productplacement

QFT BElfast Friday 9 May to 22 May 2014
Lenny Abrahamson will have a Q&A at the 6pm Saturday 17 May 2014 screening.

John Graham

29 April 2014