Monday, 7 November 2016


“Ah, clear they see and true they say, That one shall weep, and one shall stray”― Dorothy Parker

You’ve heard of spaghetti westerns, right? Sergio Leone's 1964 “A Fistful of Dollars” starring Clint Eastwood is a classic example. They certainly put a new twist to the USA genre. But what about a “Fish-and-Chip” western? What is that you may ask? Well, it’s a western produced in UK… We watched it last weekend.

It is the 2015 John Maclean movie “Slow West” starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Caren Pistorius and Ben Mendelsohn. John Maclean is a Scott who studied BA drawing and painting at Edinburgh college of Art and MA at The Royal College of art in London. After graduating, he formed The Beta Band with friends, 1997 to 2004 and The Aliens 2005 to 2008. John made many of the band’s music videos. In 2009 John made “Man on a Motorcycle”, a short film starring Michael Fassbender, filmed on a mobile phone, then “Pitch Black Heist” in 2011, which won the best short film BAFTA. “Slow West: is Maclean’s first feature film.

The plot centres on young Scotsman, Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who leaves the lochs and glens of his country to find Rose (Caren Pistorius), his long-lost love who is now in the Wild West of America. A desperado, Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender), decides to accompany Cavendish on his journey for a price… Cavendish hands over “protection money” for the journey, but the naïve youngster is unaware that Silas may also be wanting to cash in on a bounty that hangs over Rose’s head (something that Jay is unaware of).

The American West serves as an allegory of love and death and the journey that the two main characters undertake has a soul-searching depth that may be found in some road movies (only here they are on horseback!). The film was shot in New Zealand and Maclean certainly convinces us that we are looking at the American West (and Scotland as well, in a few flashback scenes). The cinematography is wonderful and the colours alternating between muted and hazy to crisp and vivid, as if the film switches between nightmare and beautiful dream.

The film is romantic and violent, hellish and paradisiacal, idealistic and cruelly realistic all at once. But there is also humour and light-heartedness in this film as well as tragedy. The intensity and purity of young, first love is contrasted with the wicked ways of the world, while the young and innocent Jay is quickly corrupted by circumstances and his interactions with tough man Silas. Yet, while Jay hardens on the outside and maintains his idealistic love internally, Silas sheds his toughness and softens by the end of the movie. I was reminded a little of “True Grit” where there is teaming up of a naïve youngster with a cynical older man, but “Slow West” has a charm and hardness that is not seen in the older movies.

The acting was wonderful, both from the first-billed actors to the supporting roles and the direction managed to maintain interest in what was essentially a slow movie, with lots of action and lots of character development, all stuffed into the extremely concise 84-minute run time. The musical score was appropriate and non-obtrusive while the costumes and sets great. This is a great little film if you can lay your hands on it and a wonderful directorial/script-writing debut from Maclean.

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