There is more to life than survival, Jay Cavendish taught me that.
Westerns appear to be making a comeback. I have previously commented in the reviews for The Proposition and The Salvation that westerns have been slowly dying out for some time, but not it appears that they are re-emerging and this is very much a good thing.
When I saw the trailer for Slow West, I grew exceptionally excited as it featured two of my favourite actors of the modern day, Ben Mendelsohn and Michael Fassbender. I have previously been impressed with Mendlesohn after his performance in a film I have reviewed in the past, Black Sea.
The cast excited me, but then, before watching it on Sunday morning on an onDemand online service, I saw the words “critically acclaimed” and my heart sank. I’ve mentioned in a few reviews in recent weeks that critically acclaimed tends to mean that they are long, drawn out and boring, which very little substance, so with writing this part before I actually watch the film, my optimism for this being good as gone seriously downhill.
Jay (Smit-McPhee) travels to America during the 1800s to find his girlfriend, Rose (Pistorious), but it obvious pretty quickly that he is out of his depth and it only takes a last minute intervention from Silas (Fassbender) to save him from being shot by bandits. Silas convinces Jay to have him as his chaperon as he recognises that Jay doesn’t stand a chance otherwise.
What Silas doesn’t tell Jay is that his girlfriend is actually wanted for murder and has a $2,000 bounty on her head, and Silas is using Jay to track her down. The two soon encounter trouble in a store though a foreign couple come in and try and steal everyone. The man is shot by the storekeeper, who in turn is still by the woman. The woman threatens Silas but he talks to her long enough for Jay to save him, but Jay soon runs away when Silas refuses to help the children of the couple, who were waiting outside. Silas soon catches up after a few days.
As they continue their journey to find Rose and her father, the duo are found my Payne (Mendelsohn), a former bounty hunting partner of Silas and they all soon realise that is effectively a race against time and each other to get to the family and the bounty. Who can win the race and how will Silas cope when he realises that there is a bounty on his girlfriend?
So, is it worthy of being critically acclaimed?
No, not it is not.
I’m going to start with my only two positives, that’s right, I can only think of two things that are worth mentioning in a good sense.
The first is the film does look fantastic. It’s use of locations of works really well and you truly get the sense that this is an old timely film. It’s simple things such as that that make the film believable and you genuinely feel like you’re in the wild west. It looks right and that is one of the biggest praises that I can give any film.
I also love that Jay has become completely ill-equipped to travel across America and despite his confidence, he would never be able to survive on his own. When Silas opens up his suitcase, he finds things such as a teapot, which serves practically no functionality in the wild west. This shows how wonderfully naive the character is and this trend continues throughout most of the movie.
Fassbender and Smit-McPhee has good chemistry on the screen together and they have a great teacher/student style relationship. With both being announced for the upcoming X-Men Apocalypse movie (Fassbender reprises his role as the young Magneto, and Smit-McPhee will play Nightcrawler), it will be interesting to see if their characters are on screen at the same time so we can compare the relationship between them then and now.
I’m not going to lie, Smit-McPhee wasn’t particularly engaging in his portrayal as a main character and you don’t feel any real connection to him at all. He plays the character with the same sort of enthusiasm and emotion as most young actors do these days, in other words, none. You never once believe that he truly loves Rose and this is down to Smit-McPhee’s emotionally lifeless performance as Jay.
If you’re going to have a main character, you really should have someone playing him who can bring you into the role and the only time you feel like he’s worth feeling sorry for/routing for, is when he gets shot in the hand with an arrow and you see the pain on his face. That’s the only time Smit-McPhee doesn’t approach the portrayal with a sense of being bored by the role.
This could easily be because the character isn’t particularly well written, and it isn’t only restricted to him. Mendelsohn is wasted as Payne. Payne is the film’s main antagonist and yet you never really feel like he is as fearsome as everyone keeps suggesting. Mendelsohn is a great antagonistic actor, such as his role in Black Sea, and had his role been written well then this could have been one of the best western antagonist roles of all time, but alas, Mendelsohn can only work with what he was given, and he was given crap.
I would go as far as saying that not a single actor puts in a credible performance and the lack of emotion and engagement with any of them does the film no favours whatsoever. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I was bored, but the film doesn’t really move at all and it feels like it’s at least 15/20 minutes long, and that’s definitely not a good thing given that the run-time is only 80 or so minutes. No film that lasts less than 90 minutes should have you reflecting that it should be considerably short that it was.
A film that had huge potential and wasted it with lifeless performances and poorly written characters. You’re never routing for the protagonist and never feel that the antagonist is a genuine threat. The character of Silas is arguably the most intriguing as he switches from antagonist to protagonist, but is otherwise largely on the same level of emotional engagement as the other two.
I wouldn’t quite call it completely bland, but it is certainly not exciting, tense or engaging at all. I find it laughable that this received critical acclaim and I can’t believe that it has a rating of 7.5/10 on IMDB at the time of writing.
If you’re going to watch one of the westerns that I have reviewed on this site so far, make it The Salvation and avoid this.