Film Review: Slow West is tight and arresting

Director/writer John Maclean’s story is set at the end of the 19th Century and follows the journey of sixteen year old Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who has made his way from Scotland and is travelling solo across the American Frontier in search of the woman he loves. Solo, that is, until a rogue called Silas (Michael Fassbender) chances upon him and takes him under his wing, for a price, informing him that, without him, he wouldn’t last the night alive.

And so the two of them embark on a dangerous trek, chancing upon all manner of dodgy characters along the way in this visually arresting, sharp, witty and really tight Western. Tight is definitely the word. The film runs at just 84 minutes which, in this age of bloated, indisciplined editing, is a breath of fresh air. There is no fat and yet, impressively, the back-story is clearly explained and the narrative still feels dreamily and appropriately meandering. That’s quite an achievement.

The two leads are great. Smit-McPhee plays the young, privileged Scot with an equal amount of bravado and vulnerability and, as for Fassbender, well, he’s the kind of actor you could watch reading the phone book for 90 minutes and still enjoy it. Ben Mendelsohn also pops up later, and has fun playing one of the aforementioned dodgy characters the duo encounters.

The climax offers genuine shocks and excitement and fittingly closes a really strong, refreshing and stylish modern Western, which is certainly worth 84 minutes of anyone’s time.


Slow West is currently screening at the Sydney Film Festival (details here) and at selected cinemas elsewhere.

bobby townsend


Review by Bobby Townsend.