Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is on a mission: he has to find the love of his life, Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius), who has found a new home in the Wild West. Jay is all alone, which is not without dangers. When Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender) stumbles upon him, he practically forces himself on Jay as a guide. Together they make the track West. But there seems to be more to the story than just simple romance and to Silas’ motivations than pure kindheartedness.
I’m not a huge fan of Westerns in general (though I do find myself starting to appreciate the genre), but quite apart from genre considerations, Slow West is a beautifully crafted, well executed film that I enjoyed a lot.
Slow West and Paper Towns share a bit of a similarity: both feature young male protagonists searching for a girl they are madly in love with. In both films it turns out that the girls aren’t in love with them when they do find them. But where Paper Towns stumbles in its undermining of the trope, Slow West brings its subversion to new heights: Rose actually shoots Jay when he storms her house in the middle of a shoot-out to protect her and doesn’t notice until after everything has happened. Because to the last she is busy with her life and he is so obsessed with his love for her, he doesn’t even consider what she might be seeing in the situation. And that’s beautiful.
The only misstep in that showdown is the moment when a salt jar is shot above the wounded Jay’s head, literally pouring salt into his wounds as he watches the woman he loves who just shot him worry about another man. I don’t know whether it was intended as a joke, but I had to laugh – and that disrupted the dramatic tension of the showdown quite a bit. There is a time and place for jokes – that wasn’t it.
But Jay’s and Rose’s story wasn’t the only thing I was intrigued by in the film; Silas is quite the character himself and I loved the way his relationship with Jay slowly develops. But even more than that, I was fascinated by his backstory and his relationship with Payne (Ben Mendelsohn). Since Michael Fassbender can look at nothing without eyefucking it, there was a distinct homoerotic tension there that makes their story not only one of greed, but a messy break-up and also adds depth to the relationship between Jay and Silas, as you can imagine that Silas is working through his own past with Jay, maybe mirroring how he and Payne met, only that his feelings for Jay end up being more fatherly than romantic. Probably because he is still hung up on Payne, even if he may have tried to distract himself. Of course, all of that backstory is more my own imagination and interpretation of a few glances and moments, but in my head it added complexity to all of the characters involved, making the film much more enjoyable.
But moving away from my headcanons, Slow West is a beautifully shot, well (if slow) paced film that quietly undermines a few topes. I am a little undecided about the happy family ending (and the salt) but other than that, I really have no complaints.
Summarizing: Worth it.