Slow WestJohn Maclean (UK NZ 2015)Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Mendelsohn; Michael Fassbender
Viewed: Tyneside Cinema; 3rd July 2015; ticket: £8.50
Like a flatpack of MDF with bolts and washers, MacLean’s Slow West is assembled out of all the bits and pieces you need to make a Western.There are some guns, a couple of nags, scenic backdrops, bearded dodgy looking baddies in old boots etc.But still Slow West amounts to little more than a transposed British road movie of 70’s vintage.
Set in 1877, Slow West follows Cavendish, a young Scot (he describes himself as British but quickly and correctly changes this to: Scottish) on his quest to find Rose, his old sweetie.In the course of his search Cavendish in the tradition of the ‘80’s Scottish road movie, meets up with a lot of funny old eccentric geezers; a soldier, a rough likeable villain, a seer.These all help guide him towards the object of his desire and his destiny.
These road encounters are accompanied by dialogue encrusted with words of putative wisdom and insight in the same way a ships hull is encrusted with barnacles. They weigh it down.The dialogue staggers along under the weight of its own cleverness and banality: “ Love is universal - like death.”Writer director MacLean is more interested in showboating his writing talent (such as it is) than using dialogue to open up character for the viewer.Another trait that inspired Brit 70’s film making.
The film is so politically correct that I waited on the credits to see if there was a political commissar on the payroll.But I forgot that these days directors, particularly male ones, are on a self censoring autopilot.So: the women are good and most (but not all) of the men are bad or perhaps stupid; the native peoples are all subject to anachronistic positive evaluation, there is a yoga lesson in the middle of a stick up; the upper classes are bad the peasants good etc.All unusually interesting.
The film is supposed to be a post modernist conceit, the stick up Yoga session has a Monte Python feel:Just “Breath !”.But Slow West looks and feels as much traveloguesque as Pyhtonesque. We pass through the woods and mountain plains of New Zealand accompanied by anodyne music and come across flat pack structures.The store in the mountain pass, the cabin on the plain both look like Ikea builds.Conceits accompanied by story telling and wiseacring andlaboured visual jokes.
It’s difficult to care about anything in the movie.By the end, after its Straw Dogs like siege with the ‘correct’ ending (no rape the sweetie kills all the bad men),the film amounts to little more than: Welcome to New Zealand – you can do whatever you want here – make a Western.
One element in the film that I enjoyed was Kodi Smit-McPhee’s performance.He does possess the face and presenceofthe clown. There were moments in the film when it seemed as if the film would honour this clown and release itself from the strictures of post modernist indulgence. But these moments were fleeting and this strand of development of the material never sufficiently realised. MacLean’s vision seemed to look past the clown attribute of his movie, and followed a plot line into the blue mountains of forgetfulness and the immense field of wheat.