••• The International Writers Magazine: Film Review
SLOW WEST review
Director: John Maclean
Writer: John Maclean
Stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn
Charlotte March review
I do realise that liking revisionist westerns is something that enlightened women do, but every time I’ve ever decided to sit down to watch something like The Unforgiven with the men of my household post-Sunday-roast I’ve had a hard time of both enjoying the film alongside taking it seriously, mostly because the genre already takes itself too seriously.
Say what you want about the racially insensitive, female-commodifying frontier films of yesteryear – they have more charm to boot than all the revisionist westerns combined. Yet I somehow found myself charmed by Michael Fassbender in a stetson the other day in Slow West: easily the best film I’ve seen all year.
Slow West is for outsiders of the genre made by an outsider - Directed by Scottish cinematic debutant John Maclean. It doesn’t suffer from the dreary tropes seen in its contemporary counterparts like the brooding Das Finstere Tal or the female-driven Keeping Room. Though it attempts to rectify the genre, it is unlike these films through the means in which it accomplishes the task. For one thing Slow West is heaving with colour, which is odd. For contemporary revisionists, Support Your Local Sheriff vivacity and Francis Ford technicolor is a no-no. If you want people to take your movie seriously then you’d better make sure the sky is grey and absolutely nothing about the way it looks should titillate (think True Grit versus True Grit.) Thankfully Slow West does not adhere to this tired trope. It cannibalises the way the fifties westerns used to look and what they were about without becoming nostalgic.
Each frame is a cheery inferno: rich blues and neon reds. Not only is it an attractive film, but the fact that it’s enjoyable to look at works to its advantage in keeping the viewer lulled by the plot as well as the revisionary subtext of the plot. Without sounding too cantankerous about nowadays, but nowadays, one doesn’t expect to be impacted by an attractive film. Not since the rise of the superhero genre, which are all laughably getting darker as well. Such is the mishandling of colour in cinema.
The plot is deceptively simplistic and the cast is solid, mostly male-driven with the rare exception of a few female badasses who are written well - so no harm, no foul. Also, unlike its camp beginnings and bleak contemporaries, none of the main protagonists are American. Everything about it is secretly, absurdly unconventional. It does its job quietly, without the director having to outright tell you that violence is bad or that Indians are people and women are cool. When Maclean shows you something, it matters, but it’s left to you to interpret why it matters.
All in all, I found it a strange film to watch under the duress of a creative writing class but a film that has quickly joined the ranks of my top ten. A decent film worth the watch, especially for people who hate watching westerns.
© Charlotte March December 2016
Charlotte is studying English at Lincoln University.
View the trailer
I’d never met an angel. Not personally. But I know angels are blonde because Ella Keeling and Kayleigh Gent are blonde...