Sydney Film Festival Review – Slow West

As the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize winner at the Sundance film festival, the unconventional western that is Slow West is absolutely captivating and thrilling with a hint of Romance.

The film surrounds the journey of a young aristocratic 16 year-old boy, Jay (Young Australian actor, Kodi Smith-Mcphee) and his desperation to be reunited with the women he loves, Rose (Caren Pistorious). An accident in Scotland forced her and her father (Rory McCann) to flee to Colorado. While he is naïve in the dangers of the frontier, Jay teams up with the clever; Silas (Michael Fassbender) who agrees to protect him, for a fee, while having secret ulterior motives. Their quest soon attracts the attention of Payne (Ben Mendelsohn) and his group of outlaws, and begins the race to reach Rose and her father first.

John Maclean’s debut feature was able to create a modern take on the traditional Hollywood western in a beautiful and pure manner. The film is beautifully shot. We are able to see beautiful visuals of the New Zealand landscape and the colours are so distinct. This gave the film a thematic feel, while leaving the boundaries of the classic western people have known for years. We are able to witness the contrast of the daylight on the green pastures and the bright blue sky and the darkly lit night scenes with a tint of a slight tint of blue.

As Maclean’s first take of this style and genre, he was able to create a fresh look on the western tale we all know so well. The sense of familiarity with the setting and costumes, drawing us in and captivated us into the mindset that is the typical late 1800s era in the U.S. And while the beginning of the film may seem a bit slow, the film is nothing but rewarding to the viewer, with the message of where dreamers can team up with opportunists to follow their ambitions.

While many artistic filmmakers often lack when it comes to their take on the western. However, Maclean was able to take something that could easily have been poor and made it something great. The artistic style really works with the film, with the flashbacks to Scotland with Jay and his romantic interest, especially with the incredible soundtrack. The music in the film really helped narrate the story and the scenes in the film, with the 1870s western feel, while also conveying the romance and struggle to find your love.

The chemistry between the two centric characters of Jay and Silas works incredibly well, portrayed by Smith-Mcphee and Fassbender. The actors are able to create the hesitancy that grows into mutual respect for the characters, which allows them to surpassingly make the audience truly feel they are going on this journey in the west with the duo.

Fassbender’s portrayal of Silas was not as stereotypically tough as it could have been, however, the sensitivity and vulnerability within this character made the character made him feel human. This actor was able to fit classically into the genre, while turning a new page stepping away from the caricatures provided by years of Hollywood classic westerns.

This new take on the western has become in high demand in festivals and screenings all over the world. After its premiere at Sundance people began to fall in love with the actors and the artistic works from Maclean and his crew. Despite only being 84 minutes, the whimsical twist of the western was able to achieve its goals and allowed a sense of duality of the era and style of film.

The film is incredibly rewarding and brings the old western that we have known for years, back to life.

Slow West is set to have a wider release later in the year.

– Article by Emilia Aslan

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