Westerns, unless they are massive adventures, do not get nearly as much attention as they used to. Slow West is a short, gritty, darkly comedic, and terrifically paced Western that keeps its big revelations close to its chest until they have the proper weight behind their heavy blows. With great performances from Kodi Smit-McPhee and Michael Fassbender, Slow West proves that there are still movies that keep the Western relevant, even if it comes in an 84-minute package.
In 1870, Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) has set off from Scotland to find the girl he loves in America. Along the way he meets up with a rugged, “brutish” bandit named Silas (Michael Fassbender) who becomes Jay’s guide and bodyguard through the rough and violent land. This happens within the first ten minutes, taking no extra time to throw us into the thick of the journey. There are no excessive scenes here, only precisely what needs to happen to tell the harrowing story. The movie moves along at a deliberate, though tense, pace. Nothing really appears as it seems until we learn more about the characters, their motivations, and their realization that things may have been different than once presumed. The revelations come at powerful moments, and the plot remains sharp and deadly up until its outstanding climax.
Smit-McPhee and Fassbender work exceedingly well together. Traveling along with the backdrop of beautiful New Zealand, their true characters are revealed as our opinions of them may change and falter throughout the course of their journey. Jay, the hopeless romantic trying to find a way to his lost love, believes that there is “more to life than survival.” His naive, sugar-coated world from Scotland has far from prepared him for the rigors of the Old West. His vicious counterpart, Fassbender, is an interesting character. We meet him as a bandit, and even though Jay has paid for him to guide him, we do not entirely trust him. His development as a character is fascinating, and Fassbender continues to prove he is a brilliantly underrated actor.
Slow West won’t be for everyone—its pacing might deter people despite its worthwhile and potent conclusion. This is not an explosive western, there is no buried treasure, no saloon shootouts, nor is there any sense of justice or law; but there is a true gem of a movie in here, you just have to be prepared to look for it.