Saturday, 14 May 2016

Slow West (4 Stars)

In the second half of the 20th Century, in particular the 1950's and 1960's, Hollywood churned out westerns at a rapid pace. It was an easy way to make money. Square-jawed men riding through the open prairie shooting anyone they didn't like. It was a simple world of good versus evil. American audiences lapped it up.

After a long gap westerns are being made again today. Usually there's a big fuss about each new film because they're a rarity. They're a retro genre, a nostalgic reminder of the good old days of cinema. However, they aren't made like they used to be. The new films might use the tropes of the classic westerns, but they explore new ground. In particular, the line between good and evil isn't so clear.

"Slow West" is a good example of a modern western. It takes place in 1870. Jay Cavendish is a 16-year-old boy from a noble Scottish family. He's in love with Rose Ross, the daughter of a poor farmer. Jay's uncle strikes Rose because he considers Rose unworthy. Her father defends her and accidentally strikes the uncle dead. Together Rose and her father flee to America to escape justice. They think they will be safe in a land where nobody knows them, but soon wanted posters with their pictures are hanging across America.

Jay travels to America to search for Rose. His life is saved by Silas Selleck, a bounty hunter. Jay pays Silas $100 to accompany him to the place where Rose lives, not realising that Silas is more interested in the reward for capturing Rose and her father, dead or alive.

This is a grim picture of the wild west, populated with dark, unattractive characters. Everyone is looking out for himself. That's the American way. Anyone can become rich if he has a gun in his hand. Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee are both excellent actors, and they complement one another perfectly in their roles: Kodi as the romantic young boy and Michael as the hardened gunfighter. This is what westerns should always have been like.

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