I was genuinely impressed by this bitter sweet neo-western which unfortunately is only receiving a very limited release in Belgium. The film is very confidently directed by John Maclean who prior to ‘Slow West’ only had some music videos (for several of his bands) and a few short films to his credit which were also starring Michael Fassbender. ‘Pitch Black Heist’ (2011) won the BAFTA for best short, you can easily find it on youtube.
Jay ( Kodi Smit-McPhee, the boy in John Hillcoat’s The Road, 2009) is a young Scottish boy who enlists a bounty hunter Silas (yet another excellent performance by Michael Fassbender) for protection and to help find his dreamgirl Rose and her father who had to flee the country. Not realising they have a bounty on their head Jay actually helps Silas to get him closer to his next bounty paycheck. Not surprisingly there are more bounty hunters on the same trail.
On several occasions Jay falls asleep which makes way for dream sequences which function both as a flashback to provide backstory and in a more surreal dreamlike state show us his love and aspirations for Rose.
The fantastic photography by Robbie Ryan (known for the films of Andrea Arnold, and the most recent Ken Loach films) makes great use of the Scottish and New Zealand locations in an odd 1.66:1 aspect ratio (whereas for westerns you’d expect a cinemascope 2.35:1 ratio)
The film is full of interesting and often gritty characters and details. Despite the duration of less than 85 minutes the film is in no hurry and really takes the time for scenes like the one with the Congolese (french) singers, or the one that shows us an orignal way to dry your clothes. The film shows a lot of respect for and knowledge of the old classics of the genre but uses the familiar situations in a very modern way. The violence is often raw, quick, unexpected and ruthless and Maclean has a wonderful sense of black humor.
Perhaps a bit of an acquired taste but I can’t recommend this film more highly.