Keswick Film Club - Reviews - Slow West

Reviews - Slow West

Slow West

Reviewed By Vaughan Ames

Slow West
Slow West
Last weekend was the club’s 'UK Directors Day’, when we celebrate up and coming UK Directors with two films for the price of one. This year we were lucky because both directors had managed to get big stars – a very difficult feat in the modern film world.

'Slow West' was directed by John Maclean and starred Michael Fassbender. A western it was (still popular for many, if not for the makers), but slow 'only in the way a rattlesnake or a predatory killer is slow', as Peter Bradshaw said in the Guardian. Made by an English director in New Zealand with a Scots lead (the very young Kodi Smit-McPhee), I found it gripping from beginning to end. Complete with several almost knock-about humorous scenes and some beautifully framed surprise shots (the camera became the object of the cowboy's gaze before you knew what he was looking at), the result was an off-the-wall western which still had all the requisite shootouts, silent heroes and ugly baddies to ensure we recognized the genre!

The story was of a young Scot, Jay, who was travelling across America to find his lover, Rose, who had fled Scotland after a murder Jay felt he had caused (we learnt this story in a series of well-placed flashbacks). He is naive and could so easily have been killed if he hadn't been rescued by Silas (Fassbender) who charges him $100 to take him to Rose. What Jay does not know is that Rose now has a $2000 price on her head, dead or alive ("dead or dead", as Silas eventually explains to him) so there are bounty hunters trying to find her too: is Silas one of these, we wonder?

The comedy comes in small incidental scenes: the camera sees our heroes looking at something; Silas says 'What a shame'. The camera pans round and there is a skeleton with an axe in its hand, crushed by a tree that he was obviously cutting down. Or: two Indians (they weren't 'Native Americans' yet) try to steal their horses which are connected by a washing line (!). When they ride on different sides of a tree they are both pulled from the horses. You get the idea?

At the end, Jay and Silas find the hut that Rose and her father are building in the middle of nowhere (with the help of B&Q by the look of it!), but the bounty hunters are right behind them. Silas has been turned by Jay's obvious love and tries to warn Rose, but is wounded by a bounty hunter. A traditional shootout follows, with Jay stumbling into the hut only to be shot by Rose who doesn't realise it is him. He survives long enough to shoot the last bounty hunter, but also to realise Rose is in love with Kotori, a friendly Indian. In a beautiful ironic 'shot', a container of salt is smashed and falls onto Jay's wound as he realises his wasted quest...

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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