The film follows a young Scottish lad by the name of Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as he ventures across a dog-eat-dog America in pursuit of his true love Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius), grabbing the attention of money-loving outlaw Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender) in the process.
What's interesting is the director's clear decision to make the film he’d want to see opposed to the film he’d be expected to make. By that I mean Maclean has decided to condense the film's story, casting the current trend of value-for-money-cinema to the wind by opting for a tale that’s not weighed down with conspicuous amounts of needless filler.
Beyond Fassbender's charming performance and Smit-McPhee's love-struck portrayal though, there seems to be a lack of depth to the other characters, however, Maclean's choice to underplay the supporting cast could be viewed as deliberate, subtly adding to the constantly conflicting world he has created in the West. The way those supporting characters are picked off one by one adds to that grim world, reminding us that people have the potential to kill others without knowing someone’s story, possibly doing so without even exchanging a single word.
If you think about it, you can imagine the anxiety you’d feel crafting your first feature, even hear the inner voice; it’s not good enough, it’s too short, it’s too long. So it’s perhaps expected that a director throwing their hat into the feature-film ring might feel overwhelmed by the current releases and with it get swept up in a period of imitation. With the anticipated release of The Hateful Eight looming upon us, John Maclean could have churned out Tarantino-esque monologues to snap up his audience, but instead, he’s started to carve out his own path, adding a level of artistic seasoning that might be said to under-deliver, but thankfully doesn't over compensate. An example takes place in a scene that juxtaposes the past and with the present; present-day thunder crashes overhead at the exact moment a gunshot sounded within the flashback.
To go back to Slow West's deliberately streamlined plot, Maclean orchestrates the brutal present, occasionally splicing it with flashbacks of Jay's earlier, at times, fairy tale-like life. It is this contrasting approach towards the past and present that prevents this feature-debut from feeling like two different styles have been precariously stitched together.
On the surface Slow West does suffer from a lack of character development, but it's undeniably a strong debut from John Maclean that takes his obvious infatuation with the western genre and presents it in a world that’s a striking balance between bleak and beautiful.
Slow West's final screening takes place tomorrow, Thursday 9 July at FACT.