Making a western in which a mismatched duo attempt to track down a missing girl is always going to draw comparisons to The Searchers. However, the familiar plot is where the comparisons end between John Ford’s classic and Slow West, the directorial debut of John Maclean. Certainly there is no shortage of violence and peril, but the rich vein of black humour running throughout suggests this is an extension of the old west as imagined by the Coen brothers in True Grit rather than that of Ford and Wayne.
The savage beauty of the landscape is terrifically capture by DoP Robbie Ryan (making his second appearance in the top ten of 2015), while Jed Kurzel’s thoughtful, rhythmic soundtrack is the perfect companion for a slow plod through some awe-inspiring landscapes.
Equally impressive is the cast, which boasts stellar performances throughout. Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee get the bulk of the screen time, and play off each other well with their opposing world views and childish bickering. Ben Mendelsohn continues to show why he is the go-to scumbag in Hollywood right now, while Caren Pistorious exhibits a refreshing bluntness which takes her character away from the typical damsel in distress.
All these elements combine for a crisply shot, sharply scored, cleverly scripted and assuredly acted neo-western. Throw in an unexpectedly cynical ending, and a wickedly, laugh-out-loud funny sight gag, and you have one of the most out and out rewarding cinema experiences of the year. A real treat.