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Review: Slow West

Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee star in A24's "Slow West"

As you’ll see in just about every movie ever made, the journey is almost always the most important feature. It has the ability to attract audiences, hold their attention and leave them wanting more while making them ask questions when it’s good enough. If done correctly, it can even supersede a film’s climax in its final act. That’s most films, but Slow West proves not to be most films.

This film is about Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a teenage boy from Scotland who travels to America to find Rose (Caren Pistorius), the woman he loves. Along his trip over the treacherous terrain  of the American frontier of the 17th century, the young man runs into Silas (Michael Fassbender), a mysterious man who offers to help him reach the lost love that he’s searching for. Together, these two move west with the hopes of finding what they’re both looking for while at the same time eventually running into things that most would hope to avoid.

On the road to find his lost love, viewers are asked to watch flashbacks that help the film move along as it manages to also shake things up a bit. For the most part, these scenes work as a way of extending what would be an even shorter film than it already is. It’s only about 84 minutes, so it needed something to push it over the required length of a feature film.

When we’re not watching past events by way of flashbacks, we’re primarily following the kid and Michael Fassbender’s mysterious Silas character. Through much of it, there’s not a bunch going on but it manages to be decent at its best and forgettable at its worst. A significant criticism that I have here comes from Kodi Smit-McPhee not portraying the most interesting of characters that could have been created, so using him as the primary focus turns out not to be the wisest of choices.

When taking a closer look at it all, the vast majority of these guys simply don’t make for the most interesting subjects. For myself, this is a flaw that manages to grow larger over time since it causes the film itself to become more tedious during the course of the journey that the two leads are on. I guess that’s mainly due to the fact that there isn’t a whole lot taking place through most of it. As a matter of fact, it’s difficult to even remember much of what went on for the first hour of the film’s run time.

However, it does become a bit more worthwhile and attention holding once they finally begin to introduce a real sense of potential conflict. This is where we finally get to meet someone who comes as close to resembling an antagonist as Slow West will allow. This also proves that Slow West is not only slow, but it’s also unconventional. That’s something I normally can appreciate, but they could have used this guy earlier on in the film. It’s not like they had anything else to do.

In order for a film to be great, there needs to be something of great quality included. Unfortunately, Slow West doesn’t truly incorporate anything that would make it great or worth suggesting to people looking for a good time at the cinema. There’s nothing wrong with it from a technical standpoint, but there’s nothing anywhere near spectacular about any of it either.

You can say that the fact that the people behind knew they didn’t have enough material is a good thing. As I’ve already stated, it’s only 84 minutes long and being any longer would have made it unbearable for people who require actual entertainment to go along with their entertainment. So, if you’re going to watch Slow West, you may as well skip past most of the first hour.

When taking a look at the structure of this picture, it appears as if John Maclean had what can be perceived as a compelling idea for an ending to a movie, but not much else. Once he started to put everything into motion, he only had a story that followed some uninteresting people around while plugging in a few events that don’t have much purpose outside of creating some sort of alternate version of “the wild west.”

What Slow West shows me is that there needs to be a more concerted effort to develop ideas. It can also be used as an example of why the vast majority of indie films miss out on opportunities to reach larger audiences. Some of these things simply look like passion pieces with nothing to offer audience members who look to be enthralled. You may be able to win over some critics with this formula in some instances, but the chances of you finding success anywhere else is extremely slim.

Rating: R

Director: John Maclean

Michael Fassbender
Kodi Smit-McPhee
Ben Mendelsohn
Caren Pistorius
Rory McCann

Release Dates:
May 15th, 2015 (Limitied)
May 29th, 2015 (Wide)

Film Length: 84 minutes

Distributor: A24 Films

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