Slow West – I’m With Geek Review


by Dave House

Slow West is a brilliant and provocative Western. It begins as a love story and becomes a fable about America, exploring the dreams and ideology behind the mythic Wild West. The first feature film by Writer-Director John Maclean, it won the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival this year and deservedly so.  Tense, beautifully shot and intelligent, it follows in the footsteps of great modern Westerns like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,The Proposition and the Coen Brothers’ modern day western masterpiece, No Country for Old Men.


In Slow West, Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a young and naïve boy of 16, has travelled from Scotland to Colorado in search of the woman he loves, Rose (Caren Pistorius).  While roaming the woods of the untamed American Frontier, Jay is discovered by an outlaw named Silas (Michael Fassbender) who offers him protection in return for the youth’s money. Jay accepts, unaware that Silas has his own hidden agenda. It’s a typical Western narrative but Maclean’s unique approach has created a film that feels fresh and contemporary in a genre that can often feel tired and stale.  That’s largely because of the film’s visual flare and its deeper meanings.

This is a stunning movie. Filmed in New Zealand as a stand-in for the Colorado of the Wild West. It’s enriched with a palette of vivid colours which gives the film a mythical dreamlike quality. Yellows, purples and blues fill the screen with majestic landscapes, beautifully framed by cinematographer Robbie Ryan. In one scene a Native American runs through a rich green forest fleeing for his life. The vibrant colours of his war paint, captured beautifully by the rays of sunlight blasting through the trees. One of the last of his kind, he’s chased down and killed by opportunists, his blood adding to the canvas of colours. It’s an impressionist painting of the fleeting final days of the American frontier; the savage acts involved in creating the new world juxtaposed against the beautiful natural backdrops of the old. It’s almost appropriate that it’s not filmed in America. It’s as if to say that the old America was another world, well and truly gone.

Slow West explores the final days of the old frontier as a ruthlessly Darwinian Empire, where different migrant groups are crawling over one another for survival. If they’re smart and good hunters, they can even become rich by eliminating their competition. Fassbender’s Silas is a product of that world. He’s an immigrant outlaw who’s survived by claiming bounties, tricking people and taking advantage whenever he can. He’s a complete contrast to the young and naive Jay, who opens the film looking up at the stars, recounting the constellations and imagining each star shining for him as he pretends to shoot them.  A dreamer and a romantic idealist, Jay embodies the sentiments of the American Dream, the hopefulness of the immigrant, in pursuit of happiness in the west. Silas, on the other hand is a product of greed and the bounty economy that has made the frontier a hunting ground for the opportunistic. He knows what life in the Wild West is like and has adapted to it to survive. But he also admires Jay’s dreamlike vision, which offers a glimpse into what the West could become if people were driven by love and care, instead of greed.


Fassbender and McPhee play their roles brilliantly. The former emanating a young Eastwood whilst making the role entirely his own, maintaining the brooding intensity and likable suaveness we’ve come to expect of Fassbender. Whilst McPhee emits a tenderness and naivety to his performance that both contrasts and compliments his partner. The relationship between the two characters is a strong dynamic in a movie full of great contrasts.

There’s a mischievous dark humour to Slow West that often comes out in stylistic visual flashes. At one point, Jay and Silas amusingly carry their damp clothes on an improvised washing line between their horses that ends up laughingly saving their lives from a violent native. In another moment, salt falls into a wound at the most appropriate or perhaps most inappropriate time, creating a menacingly amusing moment. It can almost be jarring, pulling you out of the action, to laugh at the irony of the situation with a visual gag. But then another gunshot fires and the film’s brilliant sound mixing pulls you right back into the action with reverberating and deafening gunshots and its ponderous folk tunes.

This is a highly enjoyable film and one that avoids the dust of its aging genre.  It’s a postmodern Western that’s as current as it is historical. Poetic and stunning, with a dry humour and a haunting quality, Slow West ranks among the best in contemporary Westerns.

Slow West is out now


Pride: An inspiring film that everyone, Everyone should see.


Set in British Cinema’s favourite decade – the 80’s – beneath the iron grip of Thatcher and amidst the miners strike, a group of headstrong gay and lesbian young activists decide to try and help the miners’ cause by raising money for them in an attempt to rally together against a common foe. With the group title Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners or L.G.S.M, no one wants to have anything to do with them in 1984 But then a phone call to a Welsh mining town sets up an unlikely alliance and ultimately, friendship between two groups of sidelined people. it’s all based on a true story and is told exceptionally well with some astounding performances particularly from Andrew Scott and Bill Nighy who demonstrates a subtlety you rarely get to see from him.

Pride is an inspiring film that is heartfelt and uplifting. Occasionally it becomes almost too sentimental and slightly cheesy, but always manages to pull it back with very assured performances and an overall well crafted script from Stephen Beresford. It’s also different and refreshing to see an L.G.B.T. film that is so overwhelmingly positive and does not end all in tears like other films of the genre. Brokeback Mountain for example is an excellent film, but certainly not an easy watch. One of the main strengths of Pride is that it feels honest and consistent in its portrayal of hardships, prejudice and loss. Appropriately H.I.V. comes into the film as an integral part of L.G.B.T. history but does not become a focus. The focus is solidarity and celebration. The film has clearly been designed for mass appeal – it follows in the footsteps of well loved and heartwarming Brit flicks such as The Full Monty and Made In Dagenham with its up heartwarming proud Brit style. This may provoke fair criticisms but is also one of the film’s strengths. The point is that this is a film and subject matter everyone should be able to embrace and feel happy and proud to.

I urge you to see Pride. Particularly if this strikes you as a film that is not for you. Believe me it is.