Slow West Review: The Harsh, Absurdist Truth

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Once upon a time, westerns were like today’s superhero movies, just checking off the things they knew audiences wanted to see with a few classics sprinkled inbetween that formulaic. Now, westerns are rarely even wide-release material.

The genre may have suffered for this financially, but the few that make the biggest waves tend to be pretty good. That’s where Slow West comes in. Westerns have become the stuff of arthouse cinema, and this film may just lead the pack when film studies courses talk about the modern western.

Slow West combines the awkward teenager coming of age story and the black comedy with the genre it lives and breathes to create something that feels new. We follow Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as he travels through America to find his friend Rose (Caren Pistorius) whom he’s smitten with, even though she looks at him like a little brother. He comes across Silas (Michael Fassbender), an outlaw that, unknowingly to Jay, is using his new companion to lead him to the $2,000 bounty on Rose’s head. But Silas’ old gang, led by Payne (Ben Mendelsohn), are out for the bounty as well.

The different character moves do great work for most of the film, but its the ever-escalating climax that makes this film truly sing. All these different players and more come together for a massive shootout where different fates play out in a delightfully unpredictable manner. Slow West is very good at making you think its one film, only to reveal its actually making fun of the film you thought it was. The humor is absurdist, but always in a way that makes sense logically.

You combine tragedy and comedy with all the different genre work and you’ve got this magnificent cocktail of a film. Throw in some great character arc carried by some very fun performances, Fassbender and Mendelsohn in particular, and the whole experience is ver rewarding. Slow West quietly reignites the western flame that hopefully inspires more filmmakers to weave different genres into the days of outlaws and the frontier. It’s a welcome return to a genre sometimes forgotten about. Grade: A-

By Matt Dougherty

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