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Film Review: Blood Flows Fast In 'The Slow West'

Film 4 Productions

When editorial writers hoped to spur the country's westward expansion with the phrase “Go west, young man,” they might not have envisioned a sixteen-year-old from Scotland whose beloved has a bounty on her head. But that’s the deceptively simple narrative of Slow West, director and writer John Maclean’s creative, at times dazzling new western.

Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Jay, a teenager who left his native Scotland for the Colorado territories circa 1870, a place and time of volatility and random violence. Equipped with money, a gun, and two suitcases stuffed with clothes and cooking utensils, he’s on horseback and intent on reuniting with Rose (Caren Pistorius), his girlfriend from back home. Stopped and held at gunpoint by a grizzled outlaw, Jay is saved by a fellow renegade named Silas (the charismatic Michael Fassbender), who conveniently shoots the robber through the head.

Jay and Silas strike a deal: For fifty bucks now and fifty bucks later, Silas will chaperone Jay to his destination. At a trading post, Silas sees a flier advertising that Rose and her father are wanted for murder, with a $2,000 reward. Silas pockets the poster before Jay can see it, but the secret ups the movie's ante: Jay is determined to lock arms with his beloved, while Silas wants to see her locked up.

Other bounty hunters are also on their trail, including a cold-blooded bon vivant-type wrapped in a flashy fur coat (played by Ben Mendehlson, with an obvious nod to the kinds of kooks Bruce Dern played in westerns of old). All interested parties converge at the killers’ isolated cabin, and what follows is a spectacularly vibrant and bloody shoot-out that makes up the final third of the film.

Maclean inventively stages the mayhem in a way that salutes and abuses the gorgeous landscape. And by the final credits, viewers are reminded of the film’s consequential brutality with a quiet coda that revisits the crime scenes of every single person the story found it necessary to kill.

Slow West | Dir. John Maclean | 84 min. | Cinetopia, 5724 W 136th Terrace, Overland Park, Kansas, 66223, 913-402-9300.

Since 1998, Steve Walker has contributed stories and interviews about theater, visual arts, and music as an arts reporter at KCUR. He's also one of Up to Date's regular trio of critics who discuss the latest in art, independent and documentary films playing on area screens.
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