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‘Slow West’ a strange, twisted trip across the frontier

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a teenage immigrant, a mysterious cowboy and a pack of bounty hunters wander across the American frontier in search of a potentially murderous father/daughter team.

Hopefully you’re not waiting for a punchline because there isn’t one. That’s pretty much the entire plot for the new western/drama/comedy/thriller “Slow West.”

Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender) navigate through the American frontier in "Slow West." (Photo courtesy of A24 Films)

Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a teenage immigrant who is travelling west in search of his true love, who – along with her father – is wanted for murder back in their home country of Scotland. Following an encounter with Native Americans, Cavendish is either befriended by, kidnapped or “adopted” by Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender), a mysterious nomadic cowboy, who vows to deliver him safely to his destination … for a price.

Along the way the duo must square off against the natives, Mother Nature, other desperate travelers, a pack of bounty hunters and a mind-bending night with the “Green Fairy.”

If I’m being completely honest, if you asked me to classify the genre of “Slow West” I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea as to where to start. It’s a period piece as it’s set in the 19th century; it’s a western as it’s got cowboys, gunfights and is set in the wild west; it’s dramatic, wistful and at times romantic; it’s got its share of thrilling, edge-of-your-seat-in-a-slow-burn-sorta-way moments; and at times it’s laugh out loud funny.

I imagine that if Wes Anderson (“Moonlight Kingdom,” “The Royal Tenenbaums”) were to make a western, it might look something like “Slow West.” Anderson, however, has nothing to do with this film – it’s the brainchild of director/writer John Maclean. This film marks the feature-length debut for Maclean in both of those roles, having previously worn the same hats on the short films “Pitch Black Heist” and “Man on a Motorcycle.” If this is any indication of things to come, he could be a name worth watching for in the future.

As interesting and unique as the story is, I don’t know that it would be as successful with the equally unique pairing of Smit-McPhee and Fassbender on screen.

Smit-McPhee (previously best known for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” or “The Road”) comes off as young, timid and fairly fragile, while the Oscar-nominated Fassbender (Best Supporting Actor, “12 Years a Slave”) is a boisterous, commanding presence virtually every time he’s on screen. Despite being polar opposites, the two play off each other nicely and really drive the story even further.

While “Slow West” might not fit into any one category and that will likely bother some people, it’s entertaining and a lot of fun.

“Slow West” opened Friday, May 22, at the Film Society at St. Anthony Main Theatre in Minneapolis.

★★★★ of ★★★★★

© 2020 by Man Versus Movie

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