Slow West: one hell of a ride

Jon Fuge

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The western genre is a difficult sell in these modern times. Stetson-wearing heroes don’t charm blockbuster audiences in the way they once did, and recent big-budget efforts like The Lone Ranger and Cowboys and Aliens stumbled both financially and creatively.

But it is with lesser-known talent and smaller budgets that the modern western can shine. In the hands of less-glitzy filmmakers, the genre has become more thought-provoking. The Assassination of Jesse James, The Proposition and No Country for Old Men have helped to reinvent the western as a genre that can explore more profound philosophical ideas about life and death, greed and savagery.

Slow West is a film very much of this ilk. It follows Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a young, lovesick Scottish boy, as he travels across the nineteenth-century frontier in search of his exiled lady love. In tow, and for a price, is the mysterious bounty hunter Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender), who has an agenda of his own.

This film lives up to its name; Jay’s journey moves at a deliberately steady pace, creating an unnerving atmosphere. The boy and his steely protector trudge through the deserted landscape, pursued by gun-toting bounty hunters, bow-and-arrow-wielding natives and the ravages of nature itself. The ethereal visuals – star-filled skies hovering over vast deserts, peaceful lakes among lush, green forests – disguises the blood-soaked nightmare that plays out amid the rugged landscape.

Jay is an innocent among the guilty: a boy trying to be a man and complete his heroic quest for the one he loves. Meanwhile, Silas is a man from the dark side who knows all too well that Jay doesn’t stand much chance of survival. Silas is a classic western archetype, all silent glares and chewing cigar. Fassbender carries the part with ease.

Slow West is not for everyone, but those willing to tag along are in for one hell of a ride.

Jon Fuge is a writer based in London.

Watch the trailer for Slow West:

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