Slow West

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - — Jonathan Richards

Slow West, West­ern, rated R, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 2.5 Chiles

The land­scape of irony is treach­er­ous ground. Slow West, the arch new West­ern from writer-direc­tor John Maclean (for­merly of the Scot­tish mu­sic group Beta Band) and pro­ducer-star Michael Fass­ben­der treads this land­scape with the swag­ger of a con­fi­dent ten­der­foot. Some of it comes off nicely. A lit­tle of it makes sense. Some of it trips over its spurs and falls flat on its face.

It feels, and this is not al­to­gether a bad thing, like a West­ern imag­ined by a kid dreaming in his bed half a world away, with Hopa­long Cas­sidy comics stashed un­der his pil­low and Ser­gio Leone posters pinned to his wall. Com­ing as it does from a Scot­tish direc­tor and a Ger­man-Ir­ish star, and filmed on lo­ca­tion in New Zealand, this is un­der­stand­able and even a bit noble. It’s a West­ern about Westerns, and it wears this ap­proach like a badge of honor, rev­el­ing in clichés of the genre like a boy dressed in a cow­boy out­fit from the F.A.O. Sch­warz cat­a­log and prac­tic­ing his fast draw in front of a mir­ror, snarling, “Eat lead, you varmint!”

Fass­ben­der plays Si­las Sel­leck, a griz­zled out­law who takes un­der his wing a downy-cheeked boy named Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee). They meet tough-cute when Si­las more or less res­cues Jay from be­ing gunned down by a rogue Army of­fi­cer in the woods. A lit­tle back­ground: Jay is a Scot­tish lad­die on a quixotic quest to find his lost Scot­tish lassie, Rose (Caren Pis­to­rius), who fled the bon­nie braes of the old coun­try for the Amer­i­can West with her fa­ther af­ter he accidentally killed a mem­ber of Jay’s aris­to­cratic Cavendish clan. All this comes out in flash­back.

What comes out in voice-over is that Rose and her fa­ther have a price on their heads and that Si­las is a bounty hunter determined to col­lect it. This is known to us and to Si­las, but not to Jay, who re­luc­tantly ac­cepts the brutish Westerner as his es­cort and pro­tec­tor through the wilds of Colorado.

Ev­ery scene feels like one that has played out in the fer­tile brain of some­one who has al­ways wanted to make a West­ern. This can be fun, es­pe­cially when handed over to the lush cam­er­a­work of Rob­bie Ryan, who shoots it all in candy-colored hues and gives us a Wild West that is some­times stereo­typed and some­times oddly dis­placed.

Fass­ben­der is la­con­i­cally ap­peal­ing in full Clint East­wood Man-With-No-Name mode (even though he has a name). He chomps on a cigar and barely winces when shot. Smit-McPhee is a ro­man­tic doo­fus, but he earns his spurs: No­body who shoots a woman in the back will ever be wholly in­no­cent again.

The dia­logue is full of lines about “drift­ing west” and other such clas­sics gleaned from the pages of Zane Grey and the vaults of Westerns past. There are plenty of vis­ual homages to clas­sics of the genre, and there’s a cli­mac­tic shootout scene with gun­men creep­ing about and pop­ping up out of tall grass that has a whiff of a scene in Ted Flicker’s great satire The Pres­i­dent’s An­a­lyst.

What are th­ese Scots do­ing in the Wild West? Who put the price on the heads of Rose and her daddy, and how has it found its way to wanted posters in Colorado? Th­ese and many other ques­tions will prob­a­bly go unan­swered — or per­haps sud­denly make in­spired sense as you lie in your bed drift­ing off to sleep and star­ing at the spaghetti West­ern posters on your wall.

Michael Fass­ben­der and Kodi Smit-McPhee

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.