Slow West | Film Review

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There’s something about the universal theme of young love that never ceases to intrigue the masses. It could be that stories like Romeo and Juliet remind us of how intensely beautiful and overwhelming first love can be, or for the pessimists, amusement that derives from the impulsive tendencies that these 'young in love' characters pursue. But whatever it is, you can’t deny that it’s personal - that we love these stories because one way or another they remind us moviegoers about what we want, or once had.
   So playing around with this theme, “Slow West”, Scottish musician John Maclean’s debut film, is a dazzling entrance to the world of cinema. The movie shines with its compelling performances, gorgeously shot scenes, and dark humor. It borders between the works of Wes Anderson, and the Coen brothers, particularly with its artistic direction and manages to stand out from preceding western films, despite the clichés.

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Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-Mcphee), after traveling a long way from what he describes as “cold” Scotland to the “baking heart” America, is a boy lost in love on a quest to find his former lover Rose Ross (Caren Pistorus). His determination is inspiring, yet foolish. While motivated by his self-induced journey, it’s evident that Cavendish is yet another naïve boy, putting himself on a pathway that knows him more than he knows himself. Despite the ill-considered decision, you still root for him from start to finish, hooked on seeing a young boy fulfill his dreams of love. He’s excused, because after all, he’s another young one who’s caught the bite of the "love bug". Plus, when you come to think of it, youth and intellect are two concepts that rarely intertwine anyways, so why bother right? We all know this, as we’ve all done foolish things in our youth on which we look back, and the entrance and deception of Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender) proves the idealism that surrounds Jay - an idealism that surrounds all young people.

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   When Selleck enters the screen, he’s introduced as the cold and mysterious drifter who pulls innocent Jay out of a sticky confrontation. After being rescued, Jay requests for his aid by offering Selleck money, and well... this is where some faultiness comes in. Silas accepts his offer, yet there's no establishment to the circumstances of the scenario and the intentions behind Silas's acceptance. After all, wouldn't it be easier to dispatch Jay, take his money, and leave?  While you are left with skepticism and doubt, Silas’s true motives are - thankfully - established later than his entrance. You discover that he’s an ordinary bounty out for the money and the prize. The most intriguing discovery of all is when a young boy becomes a contributing chess piece to the selfish deed of a "cold-hearted" adult. The truth hurts, and it can be sad to see a gentle character like Jay oblivious to the circumstances around him.
   When these puzzle pieces are put together, you’re enticed to see how the relationship grows, yet this enticement is barely fed before you reach the final scenes that draw the outcome. You feel a bond develop, but with a lack of dialogue and action between the two characters. There too is a lack of representation that would be necessary to capture a growing bond between two 'friends', but nonetheless, you still get strong performances from Fassbender and McPhee; their natural chemistry is translated on screen.
    So while there are pieces to be polished, the good outweighs the bad in this film. Despite its minimalism, Slow West is alluringly shot. From the first scene where we see Jay staring at the stars in the night sky, to the artfully shot moments of death, you watch the movie in awe, eyes glued to the screen throughout the experience. The feeling is very much similar to watching a Wes Anderson movie, where you can’t help moving your eyes all over the place to take in every detail. The intended peculiarity of the film becomes another aspect worth praising. There are darker moments sprinkled with amusement we feel from the characters' responses to theses scenarios.

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Ultimately, what we see is what film-students attempt to capture in their debut films. What we see is simple, and well thought out. Often, newbie-directors aspire to animate ideas that may be thought-provoking, but don't translate effectively behind the lens. Let me say from experience that it isn't fun to have to sit through overwhelming and poorly executed scenes that play out longer than necessary. I find it even more disappointing to have to sit through movies that feel rushed and uninspiring. Slow West on the other hand, is an example of simplicity but effectiveness. It’s laced with dark humor, and pretty scenery, while reminding us of why audiences like to gush over the idea of young love. Slow West is the perfect debut to directing abilities of John Maclean. 

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