Slow West, in theaters May 22, is a dreamy, sometimes ethereal film that is at once an old-school western and a movie that just looks something like a cinematic frontier tale. It follows Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) a 16-year-old Scottish boy who’s made his way to America and is traversing the wild west in search of his lady love, Rose Ross, who’s moved to a sprawling prairie with her father. Jay is joined on the road by Silas Sellack (Michael Fassbender), a mysterious bounty hunter who appoints himself Jay’s paid guardian. Unbeknownst to Jay, Silas is on the path of Rose and her father too — the pair are the object of a wanted poster and Silas hopes his youthful companion will lead a path straight to their door and a big payday.
Unlikely friendship and inevitable betrayal are classic elements in many genre films and they add to the sense that Slow West is a film that’s influenced not only by classics of the genre, but by the unconventional and sharp styles of the likes of Quentin Tarantino, the Coen Brothers with hints of Robert Rodriguez and Guy Ritchie.
It’s a sharp script with darkness and plenty of unexpected (at least for this reviewer) humor. Much of the film brims over with wit, giving Slow West a unique vibe among a genre that is often crowded by strong silent types instead of chatty cleverness. This blended with beautiful cinematography, scenes of violence laced with a sense of the surreal gives Slow West that singular quality that makes it a not-so-classic, classic western. Strong performances from both Fassbender and Smit-McPhee add another layer of enjoyability to this solid feature debut from writer-director John Maclean.