Sunday, August 16, 2015

Slow West Review

Shrubbery covers the land as the brisk air of the morning enters your lung. The sound of your boots crushing the dirt flows into your ears while you make your way across the unforgiving terrain. Thirst clenches your body, rendering your mind capable of only exerting one thought: survival. To make it to another day is a victory worthy of being encapsulated in poetry. Welcome to the West as it really was, a callous realm that Slow West depicts in an engrossing manner.

Typical cinematic depictions of the o'l west factor in several recurring elements, namely taking place in an old town with various locations (a saloon, a sheriffs office, a jail, etc.) all but certain to appear. Not every western is like this of course, but Slow West does decide to abandon those archetypes for a more unique environment consisting of forests and plains in the frontier. In fact, the only appearance of the stereotypical town comes during a story told around a campfire. How appropriate, considering how, in this unruly and violent domain, the concept of having a secure home in a town feels nothing more than just a tall tale.

Plopped into these unpredictable circumstances is Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a young man traveling from Scotland to be reunited with a woman he loves. To get to her will require incredible stamina, and of course, a little help from Silas (Michael Fassbender), a man whose survived anything and everything in this unusual province. The two fellows differ dramatically in terms of approaching this landscape; Jay see's it as a land of wonder and opportunity, he's smitten by a dream version of this part of America, the kind of idealistic vision that made many-a man say "Go west young man!".

Silas see's the cold reality in this part of the country, where man is at the mercy of bloodshed and the natural elements. One flash flood can wipe you out and one never knows who might be holding a gun to your head. Their contrasting perspectives go in a winningly unconventional direction, with a sense of uneasiness existing between the two that makes their very partnership feel like it could crack at any given second. Resisting to play their dynamic in a way that allows for easy storytelling resolutions is one of the movies best assets, it doesn't flinch in looking at the way hardships these characters encounter in their odyssey.

John Maclean makes his feature-length directorial debut here, and good God, you coulda fooled me this was his first crack at tackling a movie of this caliber because this movie is impeccably directed. You really get a sense of the scope of the lands Jay and Silias encounter through some truly astounding shots. There's a recurring visual method of using long shots to maximize the daunting nature of the movies various environments, even seemingly tranquil areas such as the one seen in the gorgeous shot below:
God, the various New Zealand locations where the film was shot just pop off the screen thanks to a tremendously talented visual eye behind the camera. They manage to convey both wonder and danger. Maybe Jay and Silias individually don't have every piece of the puzzle together when it comes to their philosophy on life, but there's a reason that, together, they have a prayer of getting through this adventure alive. But even with these two partnering up, the dangers of this unique land won't ever soften, and Slow West is all the better for never softening the predicaments they encounter.

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