“There’s more to life than survival. Jay Cavendish told me that. I owe him my life. Ho for the west.” Writer/director John Maclean’s stunning film debut Slow West has more than one line of dialogue like the one that I quoted above, and it’s within his poetic prose that this slim but never too brief slice of nastiness in the lawless West finds a confident footing as one of the most exciting first features that I can think of. Starring the fantastic trio of Michael Fassbender (honestly – this guy couldn’t be bad if he tried), Kodi-Smit McPhee (one of the best young talents around), and my current favorite cinematic scumbag Ben Mendelsohn, this is a violent, fatalistic movie that has ZERO narrative fat, looks strikingly beautiful, and has a dark sense of humor about itself that proves to be one of its strongest virtues. And at 79 minutes long, there’s not one wasted moment or frame, with an overall sense of narrative economy that’s bracing to behold, with a formal design that’s eye-catching and subtly stylish (Robbie Ryan handled cinematography duties). Centering on two crusty bounty hunters (Fassbender and Mendelsohn) going after the same human reward with a young lovebird in tow (McPhee), loyalties are tested, friends are uneasily made, and the unsparing and bloody truths of travelling through hostile territory in the late 1870’s are frequently explored with a rising body count and a penchant for the starkly visceral shoot-out. Maclean directs with crisp efficiency, the performances are all spot-on, and the confidence in the material speaks to potentially exciting stuff in the future for Maclean. Jed Kurzel’s atypical score for the genre added a fresh spin to the proceedings, and the location work made this low-budget item feel much larger than it ever could be due to the independent nature of the project. Fassbender has a hardened machismo that is perfect for his quick-to-shoot gunslinger, while Mendelsohn gets to be his usually awesome and slimy self, always looking as if he needs a bath and a meal. And McPhee continually demonstrates that he’s a terrific actor; it’ll be very interesting to see what sort of roles he takes on in the future. This is a small gem that will delight viewers who are looking for some quick and explosive entertainment.


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