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John MacLean’s Slow West is a PG-13 version of The Revenant, where the story is similar, but everything happens during a welcoming summer.
Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a naive but courageous 16-year-old Scottish boy goes on a journey across 19th Century frontier America in search of Rose (Caren Pistorius), the girls he loves, while accompanied by mysterious traveller Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender). Determined to find his love, this educated and frail boy creates a rather interesting contrast between his idealistic concepts of how things should be and the savage and raw nature of how things are in reality.
As they journey west, the story that connects Jay and Rose unveils through carefully placed narrated stories and flashbacks of when they were back in Scotland. With a touch of surrealism, director John Maclean manages to focus on all characters just enough so that the story does not digress from the main plot. As a result there is purpose and emotion added to each of them, even the rough around the edges Silas. Beyond the story, there’s a lot more to be had; the brilliant cinematography keeps everything together, never breaking character and keeping the illusion alive – everything feels real and looks fantastic.
It is a love story (just the Testament of Youth is), but a tough one, as it all started from a friendship between the two where they did not share the same kind of love for each other. Rose loved him more like a brother, while he was madly in love with her and everything she did. A hopeless romantic and a bit too soft to survive in that time and age, especially on the other side of the pond. Even more so, he is faced with the cruel reality of the new world, where life can end in seconds and for reasons that don’t really make sense to him.
As the story progresses, we find out that the reason Rose left Scotland is somewhat Jay’s fault, and that makes his journey seem like an act of redemption or a result of guilt. Nevertheless his reasons seem pure and true, making Sillas want to help him because he wants too, not because he’s paid to.
From the start we see that Jay is out of his element, as the film starts with him staring down the barrel of a gun and if not for the skills of Sillas, the journey would have ended fast. That’s what makes this a good story, it is slow enough for you to enjoy the story, but exciting just at the right time and for the right reasons to, with a hint of good life lessons especially for the young at heart. Here comes the twist, where we find out that Sillas is a bounty hunter and he is after Rose and her father John Ross (Rory McCann), who have a $2000 reward on their heads.
This as you can imagine does not end well, as in the final gun fight, Jay dies hit by Rose in the heat of things, a most regrettable accident as she does not realise what she’s done until the very end. A grim but honest ending to film that has all the good bits a western should have, and exceeds everything, just by making us think that True Grit is its brother.