Monday, July 11, 2016

Slow West

When the girl he loves and her father move to the American West, Jay, a young, naive Scottish man follows her, determined to find her and win her love. Along the way he falls in with a brazen Irishman who offers to be a much-needed personal bodyguard for Jay. Violence ensues.

Very pretty violence.

The biggest problem with this film is that nothing seem to happen for any reason. The plot moves along at a predictably slow, but casually upbeat pace, but nothing seems to drive it. It starts, it happens, and it ends, and never seems to have an actual point to it. There's no reason for it's existence except for it to exist. The characters are there, and we know what they want, but we never get to see what drives them. They have a element of mystery to them that never really gets solved. They just what they're supposed to, and then that's it. They're good, but they're pointless.

While none of the performances are lacking, the only ones really worth mentioning are and . Fassbender is the more seasoned actor of the two, so there's more expectation there. He's good and entertaining, but doesn't exactly jump off the screen; there's just not enough meat to his character for him to be particularly memorable here. Motivations are shallow, and the development arc is short and flat. Smit-McPhee impresses more because we haven't come to expect performances to match the likes of Fassbender out of him -- yet. Jay was slightly more compelling because the simpler motivations worked with the naivete of the character, and Smit-McPhee backed it up well with a convincing and charming performance.

Keeping up appearances.

The highlight of the film stays at the surface. It was shot in New Zealand, so it goes without saying that there was some plenty of picturesque scenery. But New Zealand was a good choice for more than it's breathtaking mountain ranges and rolling fields. It lent the film a note of surrealism. It looked like what the old American North-West could have looked like, but in an extreme, overly-exaggerated way. And then the shots were saturated with color just to the point where it starts to seem unnatural. And then presented as a western it evoked a sense of unfamiliarity that was subtly unsettling, while at the same time, extremely beautiful to look at. It was neat effect that complemented the film well -- or would have if it didn't overshadow it a bit too much.

The music was also interesting -- perky and plucky, and western sounding but not classically so. It worked by keeping the film's pacing from feeling too draggy, but at the same time it had a hand in producing a false impression of the tone of the film. There was some serious bits and some comic relief, but for the most part the movie just floated around ambiguously and never landed on any tone at all. If that was the desired effect, I applaud the effort, but it left me feeling oddly disconnected and unable to invest much of anything in the film.

Just wandering around through some smoke...

The movie is framed fittingly -- even without the New Zealand landscape as a backdrop this film would have looked good. And the action scenes were sharp and just the right level of violent. Particularly in the climax scene, which went on for a good amount of time without losing steam. Slow West is able to live up to its title in a pleasant, not boring way, moving along to its own odd but stylish and rhythm. And its attractive, colorful, and sparsely decorated exterior is almost able to distract from an equally sparse and aimless interior.


  1. I've only watched this once so far, but one of the things I liked best about it was the way it emphasized the pointlessness of things. It was like a movie-long sermon on "Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless and grasping for the wind" from Ecclesiastes.

    1. Yeah... I guess I got that sense, but it never resonated with me, it just made the film itself feel a little pointless. Glad you liked that about it though!

      From that perspective, who did you see as the main character? Because I was really only invested in Jay, but his journey had the pointless end, as witnessed by Fassbender. And that made me think maybe he was the main character the whole time, but then of course his arc wasn't actually pointless, but rather redemptive. So was the point that he sees the pointlessness and it changes him? Or was the point that he was pointless before, and after seeing Jay's devotion he changes and stops leading a pointless life? That's more of how I saw it, but it doesn't work so well with the pointless feel of the movie....

    2. I think Jay was the main character, but Fassbender's was the witness. Almost like a reverse of Gatsby, now that I think about it, and since we've been discussing that too. It's like if Jay Gatsby were telling the story of how he met this young guy, Nick Carraway, and here's what he sort of learned from him, and then instead of Jay dying, it's Nick. (Does that make any sense at all? I'm tired and should go to bed.)

      I think that Jay's journey isn't pointless in that, by his interactions with Fassbender's character (whose name I just can't remember), he has changed this hardened man and helped him find a new way to live. So he dies having accomplished a great good, even if he doesn't realize it.

      And, in the end, Jay's devotion to the girl was pointless because she didn't love him, and Fassbender's devotion to being a loner was pointless because he ended up part of society.

    3. Yeah, that does make sense. And that's a good way to look at it so that nothing is actually pointless. But, I dunno, it still felt empty to me somehow. In the way it was presented I suppose.

      Oh, and Jay dies after he's already had the good effect on Fassbender (I can't remember his name either... :P) so I thought the death in itself was pointless. Since we knew the whole time that the girl didn't care for him, I was waiting for a change there and it didn't happen.

      Isn't that funny though, that here I didn't like that a character died without resolving their arc, and in Gatsby I do? It must be just because Jay was the lead and Gatsby only the focus. But oh my gosh, both their names are Jay! ...Now I'm wondering is this movie's plot was purposefully similar to Gatsby...

    4. You know... they're both named Jay. They both love a woman who doesn't love them, and are under the delusion that if they just work hard enough, they can acquire her. I have never read anything about the making of this movie... but yes, I'm also wondering if this was something of a Gatsby retelling! Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.