Slow West (4 stars)

Slow West

John Maclean's funny and accomplished western stars Michael Fassbender

Scottish filmmaker John Maclean's whimsical western follows a wide-eyed dreamer and his gruff chaperone during the tail end of the Wild West. Episodically structured, it documents the close shaves and oddball encounters of young Celtic nobleman Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and his hired gun Silas (Michael Fassbender). They're on the trail of the object of Jay's affection Rose (Caren Pistorius) who, along with her father, has fled Scotland after a catastrophic accident. Trussed up like a 19th century pimp, Ben Mendelsohn is the brute in pursuit.

Fassbender has the square jaw of a classic cowboy but makes for a wonderfully laissez-faire gunslinger; cigar permanently clamped betwixt his teeth, he combines coarse ways, easy charm and discernable bemusement. And, although it offers its share of awe-inspiring Colorado vistas, Slow West largely rejects the sweep and swagger of traditional westerns, favouring the more intimate eccentricity of an odd couple road movie. Furthermore, its influences are far-ranging, with The Night of the Hunter an antecedent, along with the askew comedy of the Coens and John Michael McDonagh (Calvary, The Guard), while recent cross-generational bromances Mud and Joe are as apparently influential as western quests like The Searchers and True Grit.

As well as pricking Jay's love bubble, writer-director Maclean's astonishingly accomplished debut humorously disabuses us of any and all romantic notions regarding the Wild West: a man's un-wiped arse is exposed when he's shot with his trousers around his ankles; an inexperienced tree-feller is flattened out; and our heroes strip to their long-johns, a washing line slung between their horses, after a disastrous drinking session results in sodden clothes.

Slow West is too irreverent to be instantly iconic or truly heartbreaking, undermining its most potentially poignant moment in amusingly emphatic style. That's not to say that it isn't striking or stirring. Poetically penned, and gorgeously shot by Robbie Ryan, it delivers ragged, rugged beauty as it gives life's cruel ironies a welcome lick of wit.

General release from Fri 26 Jun.

Slow West

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • UK / New Zealand
  • 1h 24min
  • 15
  • Directed by: John Maclean
  • Written by: John Maclean
  • Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Caren Pistorius
  • UK release: 26 June 2015

In the Wild West, young Scottish nobleman Jay (Smit-McPhee) and his hired gun Silas (Fassbender) are on the trail of Rose (Pistorius), the object of Jay's affection. Witty, astonishingly accomplished debut by Maclean, even if it's too irreverent to be instantly iconic or truly heartbreaking.