Slow West

Today’s Tuesday Review comes courtesy of Comrade Nel, about the brilliant film choice of Comrade Susan, Slow West:

My father is a man of few interests. He doesn’t play or follow any sport, he has no hobbies, nor does he care for reading or travel or music. This makes buying presents for him exceedingly difficult. The one thing he does love, however, is a good Western. It is for this reason that I have bought my father a new Western every birthday for nearly a decade now – thank goodness that there is such an astounding abundance of Clint Eastwood and John Wayne films to choose from.

When Comrade Susan announced that we would be watching Slow West for our most recent film night, I immediately thought back to all the many westerns I had watched over the years with my father and, to be honest, I was a little apprehensive. I wasn’t really in the mood to spend my evening watching stony-faced men trek across the bleak American west, mumbling their lines, shooting people seemingly indiscriminately and partaking of occasional racism.

I was therefore thoroughly relieved when Slow West turned out to be utterly delightful.

slow west

Instead of the hyper-masculine protagonist of your traditional western, Slow West features Kodi Smit-McPhee as the baby-faced Jay Cavendish, a young man from a noble family in search of his love, Rose Ross. Smit-McPhee gives an excellent performance in the role, somehow managing to make Cavendish’s outrageous naivety seem endearing rather than moronic. As it becomes more and more apparent that Cavendish’s quest is a futile one, you can’t help but feel increasingly anxious and heart-broken as he charges headlong into inevitable disaster.

Assisting Jay Cavendish in his romantic quest is Michael Fassbander’s Silas Selleck, a bounty hunter with ulterior motives. Praising Fassbender for his performance seems a little redundant since I think we are all agreed that he is universally marvellous. However what is noteworthy is the lovely rapport between Fassbender and Smit-McPhee. While the pragmatic, world-weary Selleck finds Cavendish’s romanticism and idealism somewhat cloying, it’s clear that he grows immensely fond of the boy throughout their journey and some of my favourite moments in the film are the small, quiet moments between the two leads. In one scene, Selleck gives Cavendish a shave, in another, he teaches him how to shoot. These brief, fond moments break up what would otherwise be an unrelentingly bleak journey through the unforgiving American west.

And while the American west is certainly shown to be unforgiving, it is also a beautiful, vibrant place. The westerns I have watched with my father feature vast, brown wastes punctuated with only occasional tufts of dry, weary foliage. Slow West, however, is beautiful. The rolling hills are cloaked in vivid green, the meadows are dotted with sprays of yellow wildflowers, and the skies are a startling blue. It’s a nice change from the traditional westerns, which seem to suggest that harsh men are made from harsh environments; in Slow West, the lushness of the environment stands in stark contrast with the cruelty and the brutality meted out by man.

And the characters in this film certainly are brutal. If your only experience with the western genre comes from Quentin Tarantino’s two latest films, then you will probably find that a lot of this film feels familiar. Violence is frequent and visceral and cruelly undiscerning. I won’t ruin the ending because that would of course make me a terrible person, but I will steal what I think is a rather apt quote from Game of Thrones’ most despicable sadist, “if you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”

Today is my father’s birthday and while I haven’t been able to celebrate the occasion with him in person, I look forward to seeing him soon and giving him a new western to add to his collection.

Nel

THIS IS NOT A DEMOCRACY

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