Movie Review: “Slow West”
Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a young romantic. He fell in love with a girl in Scotland, but after a tragic incident, the girl and her father fled Scotland and moved to a remote location in the heart of America’s Wild West. There, the two hoped to escape the inevitable fallout from the incident. Jay, however, is not willing to let go of his darling Rose (Caren Pistorius).
Jay journeyed to America himself, and has embarked on the long journey west to find Rose. Little does he realize, Rose and her father have a massive bounty on their heads, and are wanted dead or alive. The baddest bounty hunters in the west are looking for Rose and her father, and only Jay knows where they are. Fortunately, Jay winds up on the radar of an outlaw named Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender), who offers his services to the young, naive traveler.
The Pros & Cons
The Characters (+4pts)
The Flashbacks (-2pts)
The Brutal West (+8pts)
The Change of Heart (-3pts)
The Climax (+5pts)
Jay & Silas in the Climax (-3pts)
Pro: The Characters (+4pts)
The characters in Slow West were nothing crazy, but they were interesting enough to keep me watching. First there were Jay and Silas, who I thought were the most interesting characters in the movie. I did not find their individual stories to be very interesting—one was a naive romantic, the other was a seemingly emotionless outlaw, who unsurprisingly actually had a heart. We have seen versions of these characters before, to some extent, but what I found interesting was the comparison between the two characters, and how the filmmakers played with their opposing views of the world.
Again, these characters were nothing crazy, but they kept me interested. In addition to those two, there were Rose and her father (Rory McCann), who meant well, but were running from the law and were not afraid to fight to defend their freedom. Then was Payne (Ben Mendelsohn) and his colorful gang of merciless bounty hunters. This movie had an assortment of interesting characters that the filmmakers never really developed in a compelling way, but they were still interesting enough to keep me invested in the story they were in.
Con: The Flashbacks (-2pts)
This was one of those movies where the filmmakers kept cutting to flashbacks. I do not mind flashbacks if they provide useful information, and information that could not have been told chronologically in an effective way. In this movie, there was maybe just one scene that justified a flashback, and the filmmakers chose to split it into multiple flashbacks instead of just the one. On top of that, there were a few additional flashbacks that showed Jay’s love for Rose, something we had already believed and needed no further convincing.
So there was one useful flashback scene that was unnecessarily split into multiple. Then there were the additional unnecessary flashback scenes. The result was a few too many flashbacks for my taste, and I thought they felt like a waste of screentime, almost as if the filmmakers had a really short movie, so added a bunch of flashbacks for the sole purpose of increasing the runtime. It was not a huge deal if I am being totally honest, but it was an issue that I kept being reminded of while I was watching the movie.
Pro: The Brutal West (+8pts)
It felt like the filmmakers made a point of showing how unforgiving the Wild West could be, especially to someone like Jay. As I mentioned before, Jay and Silas had very different views of the world. Jay was naive, hopeful, and he thought that people were generally good and trustworthy. Silas was pretty much the opposite. He was skeptical, cold, untrusting, and he thought that people were generally selfish and would stab you in the back as soon as they got the opportunity.
When it came to morality, Jay was usually right, but when it came to survival, Silas was usually right. It was in showing the latter that the filmmakers were able to showcase how brutal the west could be. It made this story feel unpredictable, and it made each new encounter (with new characters) much more interesting. With each new character that was introduced, I was not sure if everything was as it seemed, or if it was only a matter of time before they betrayed the main characters, and if they did betray the main characters, I never knew what exactly they were going to do. There were even a couple of characters who I did not trust initially, then the filmmakers won me over and made me trust them, then the character would turn on the main characters, making my kick myself for being fooled. It was an entertaining western, and a lot of that came from the brutal, unforgiving world that the filmmakers setup.
Con: The Change of Heart (-3pts)
This was one of those movies where one character had certain goals in the beginning of the story, and I knew they would have to have a change of heart before the end of the story came. I also knew that this change of heart would come toward the end of the movie, because I knew the filmmakers would want to build tension. Seeing this writing on the wall so clearly and so early on made it so that the moments where the filmmakers tried to build that tension did not work for me. Then the change of heart finally came, and I felt there was no real reason for it, which made the switch feel unearned and random. In other words, this was a storyline that was so predictable that I lost interest in it quickly, and the filmmakers followed through with it in such a lazy, unjustified way that it made me wonder why they put this part of the story in here in the first place.
Pro: The Climax (+5pts)
This movie was definitely a slow burn. Do not take that to mean that I thought it was boring. There were some exciting moments throughout the story's rising action, and I did not think the movie was exactly long enough to be "boring", as the run time ended up coming in at a little less than an hour and a half. The filmmakers utilized action throughout the rising action of this story in order to show the viewer how brutal the Wild West was, but they always used it sparingly. This made it such that, when the climax of the movie arrived, the filmmakers could just let go of the reins and let the action happen.
I thought the filmmakers could have done a better job at showing the action during the climax, as a surprising amount of it took place off-screen. Nonetheless, the climax of this movie was action-packed, filled with excitement, and it felt like anything could happen. This was not the sort of movie where I knew that the protagonists would come out victorious, nor was it the type of movie where I felt that the main character would get the girl and the two would ride off into the sunset together. I am not going to say who died, who came out victorious, and what the outcome of the movie was, but I can say that the filmmakers did a great job of making it feel like anything could happen, and it made for an exciting, climactic conclusion to this story.
Con: Jay & Silas in the Climax (-3pts)
While I liked the climax a lot, and thought the filmmakers did a great job of building toward it, I thought it was a pretty poor showing for the main characters. Silas did not really do anything, which was odd after all the focus that was given to his skill as an outlaw, as well as his understanding of the west and the people in it. Not having Silas do much would have been fine if the filmmakers had Jay rise up, but they did not. Instead, the climax of this movie just sort of happened, and the main characters just happened to be present for it. I liked that the filmmakers had Rose fearlessly trying to hold her own, but if that was the case, the filmmakers should have focused on her more throughout the rising action of the story, rather than focus the entire story on a couple of guys who did not really bring anything to the table in the end.
Grade: B- (84pts)
I saw Michael Fassbender and Ben Mendelsohn starred in a western and I was immediately interested. This movie was not long or drawn out, and was instead short and sweet. It had the feel and pace of a western, but did not feel like it went on longer than it needed to. I also liked how effectively the filmmakers showed the brutality of the wild west. I also liked that this movie was a slow burn, but also had a number of exciting action moments scattered throughout, which made it so that the movie never felt boring. This all led to a climax that the main characters felt completely irrelevant in, but it was exciting nonetheless.
The characters were more or less one-dimensional, but they were interesting enough, mostly due to their relationships with one another. The two main characters even had opposing views of the world they both lived in, and I found that aspect of the story to be really interesting. Unfortunately, the movie was not without its problems, most of which came from its plot. While not severe issues, one character's change of heart moment was extremely predictable (yet when it finally came it felt extremely unjustified), and I thought there were a few too many flashbacks. Was this a great western? No, but I had a decent time watching it.