From 1996 until 2004, John Maclean was a vital member of Scottish indie/folk band The Beta Band. Releasing three studio albums in this time, the group were hailed by touring companions Radiohead and Oasis for their folk and electronic sound. Just over ten years later, Maclean has blessed us with his directorial feature debut Slow West.
First opened to audiences at the Sundance Film Festival, the film was categorised as Dramatic and awarded the Sundance Institute’s World Cinema Jury Prize.
The western drama finds Jay Cavendish (Jodi Smit-McPhee), a young Scottish teenager at the tender age of sixteen, alone in the heart of America. He soon finds himself under threat and bewildered by an ambush, but finds a saviour and riding partner in the mysterious Silas (Michael Fassbender) who offers to protect and take him wherever for a small fee. In search of Rose (Caren Pistorius), the love of his life who fled Scotland, Jay embarks on an adventure through the Wild West.
Offering so much more than a lot of other genre pieces, Slow West combines a love story with a revenge thriller and a coming of age tale. Maclean went into the process of making this film with clear influences; from the very first piece of dialogue to Silas chewing on an unrelenting amount of cigars, Sergio Leone’s the Man with No Name Trilogy is clearly at work. The tone of the film, however, takes a more modern approach, finding influence in the Coen Brothers to utilise comedic elements. Slow West knows exactly what it wants to be, forming a contemporary western from a first-time writer/director that lives up to its predecessors.
When it comes to Slow West, Maclean manages to keep himself well grounded by remembering the people that helped him get to where he is now. It’s no surprise that the star of his two previous short films, Michael Fassbender (Man on a Motorcycle and Pitch Black Heist), should appear in this feature. Fassbender pulls out his acting chops to be deceptive to almost everyone in the film without a single care, all whilst carrying charm to his wit. His counterpart, McPhee, also steps up his game to bring a lanky, bright-eyed and loveable character to life that doesn’t quite understand all the carnage in the world but knows that it’s needed as he utters the line, “Love is universal, like death”.
Showing yet another dark period of history in America, Slow West is a triumph and proves that no genre is ever truly dead. To already have a BAFTA under his belt and now a feature film, the future of Maclean’s career looks bright.
What did you think of Slow West?
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