New Zealand doubling as 19th century Colorado? Yes, and done brilliantly and humorously, in Michael Fassbender’s latest film, Slow West.
Macabre cinema can best be described by that old steak pun – it’s a rare medium well done. The concluding moments of Slow West feature one of the most deliciously tragicomic moments in recent cinema, the type of ominous, brutal, sadistic humour that will have you laughing, then instantly feeling terrible about yourself.
Don’t fight it, just enjoy it, because these wonderful moments are peppered throughout.
Drifting through Colorado, hardened westerner Silas (Michael Fassbender) agrees to escort Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to childhood love Rose (Caren Pistorius) after fleeing her native Scotland with father John (Game of Throne’s Rory McCann). Hiding his true motives, Silas accompanies Jay on the dangerous road, encountering any number of outlaws, travelers and outlandish souls along the way.
Frequent and graphically violent episodes come replete with humour, whether it be Jay’s hopeless earnestness or Silas’ contrasting coolness to all hell regularly breaking loose around them. Simple actions like Jay finding a bullet hole in a suit for sale or Silas acting with diametrically opposed nonchalance when men are dying around him trigger an overwhelmingly morbid sympathy for the hapless Jay, who’s just trying to find his lost love.
A Coen brothers-esque romp through the wilderness with many of the humourous hallmarks of True Grit, Slow West has much of what we expect from westerns – wanted posters (dead or alive), campfire stories, a stolid protagonist following the harsh code of the land and a LOT of revolvers. The final shootout, taking place in a cornfield, is beautifully shot and choreographed, as tense as many of the classic western finales and oh so much more tragic.
With New Zealand doubling for 19th century Colorado, the scenery of Slow West is a stunning backdrop to the clash of love and hardened cynicism between Silas and Jay which drives and delivers so much of Slow West’s greatest moments.
With westerns far less frequent than they used to be, this tense, macabre and at times unabashedly funny buddy movie may just go a long way to keeping the genre alive.