Slow West Blu-ray Review
Earlier this year I watched THE HOMESMAN, a bleak Western where nothing seemingly went right. Bubbles of familiarity began to crop up while I began to watch SLOW WEST. There seemed to be a similar path of moral destruction I witnessed in THE HOMESMAN, taking place as Jay Cavendish (Smith-McPhee) meets Silas Selleck (Fassbender) in SLOW WEST. There are plenty of familiar plot devices seen in SLOW WEST, but it manages to find an interesting blend of melancholy and optimism in a sea of Western tropes.
Jay stalks the picturesque frontier on a horseback, seemingly out of place considering the men who inhabit this landscape are gritty and rough. His young boyish looks and innocence seems ill fitting for such an unforgiving landscape. He’s in search of his one true love from his native country of Scotland, Rose (Caren Pistorius). On this journey, he pays for protection from a silent and reflective man, Silas. While Silas initially agrees to help deliver Jay to Rose, he finds a more sinister reason to track down Jay’s lost love.
Slowly, but surely, more and more is revealed about Jay. He’s an aristocrat of sorts and the society he grew up in has frowned down upon his love for Rose. There’s also a little more that’s revealed about Rose that’s made obvious to the audience, but not so much to the naive Jay. In that essence, it sort of becomes a coming-of-age story with the Wild West as the backdrop. It would only make sense that braving the unknown would spur emotional growth, but there’s also some maturing that takes place for the mysterious Silas.
In SLOW WEST’s brisk 84 minutes, there’s a lot that happens and it’s spun in a very artistic manner, but sometimes the story lack clarity in its thematic message. There is no ambiguity taking place in the story, which is unfortunate since some of the characters are in need of some mystery. There’s some dry humor that’s infused as well as a couple moments of dark humor, that don’t quite fit in this theatrical puzzle. It helps break up the dark world in which we find ourselves in, but I can’t help but feel the tone of the movie would have been better suited if it wasn’t trying to make us chuckle.
The ultimate highlight of this movie is the performance by Fassbender. He’s compelling, and like most great actors, details much about his personality and the life his character has lived through simplistic facial expressions and just the mere direction of his gaze. Smit-McPhee seems bound to the constraints of weird, awkward, or baby-faced in movies, so once again he’s a weird, awkward, baby-faced traveler in the West. When he needs to act outside those constraints, it doesn’t feel natural.
SLOW WEST is definitely different and benefits from putting tired clichés in a fresh Western story. Memories of TRUE GRIT, THE HOMESMAN, and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN resonated throughout this movie as I watched it. While those movies are better or up to par with the subject material in SLOW WEST, it does create a slight hankering for better material. Given that this is John MacLean’s directorial debut, he’s certainly someone to watch if he ever pens some better material.
Video: (1080p Widescreen 1:66:1) This film relies heavily on its vast landscapes to convey loneliness on the trail west and it comes through beautifully on this blu-ray presentation. Details come through clearly without any problems.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) When the sparsely used soundtrack isn’t used, this movie is filled with nature’s music. The sound effects and audio mixing in this movie is masterfully done.
On Strange Land: Making SLOW WEST (7:19): A by the books behind the scenes feature offering some interviews that feel scripted. This feature doesn’t offer too much in terms of informative information.
Deleted Scenes (8:44): There are only two scenes on this and none of them really add anything to the entire movie. They’re very visual in nature and one in particular might hint at certain characteristics of Jay, or possibly puberty.