Quirky and contemplative, whimsical and melancholy, edgy and unpredictable, writer/director John Maclean’s debut Slow West blends Coen Brothers with Terrence Malick to unique effect.Undoubtedly the scale, pace and sheer perfection of the piece are not on a par with the masterpieces from those grand auteurs, but it’s a credit to Maclean that he manages to both pay tribute to such visionaries, whilst finding a style and tone of his very own. Indeed the once DJ and band member (for High Fidelity fans, he was in The Beta Band) may have crafted a rather offbeat little curio which some might dismiss as too slow and too west for their liking, but there’s no denying that it strikes a distinctive chord. Although the premise ostensibly follows the same path as the Coens’ True Grit remake – with a gruff veteran gunslinger helping a naive but purposeful youth navigate the open ranges – it is much more vehemently anti-western in tone; a revisionist effort in both body and soul which echoes the likes of Jim Jarmusch's equally quirky Johnny Depp vehicle Dead Man.Whilst this may not rub well with some, the cast make the whole dish more palatable with their committed performances, wrapped up in these unconventional characters who surprise at every turn. Fassbender leads the way – facing off against Ben Mendelsohn – with Kodi Smit-McPhee's innocence-personified youth caught up between these last two warriors of the dying west. Not without its humour (normally in the face of adversity), MacLean’s script defies expectations, providing not just an anti-western but an anti-coming-of-age drama, whilst the cinematography is often pure Malick (with maybe a little Leone thrown into the broader action set-ups), although woefully restricted by a somewhat poor choice of 1.66:1 framing. Neither the ratio, nor the feature will be to everybody’s tastes, but it’s a quirky little western which many might still find a tasty mystery treat.
Slow West hits UK Region B-locked Blu-ray with a strong but far from perfect presentation.
The 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition image is framed in the rather unusual 1.66:1 widescreen aspect ratio that far from suits its broader, more traditionally cinematic vistas, where you’d have thought a 2.40:1 scope ratio would have more lovingly rendered the broad vistas. Nevertheless, stylistic choices notwithstanding, there are plenty of plus points to the presentation, with excellent detail that brings clarity, texture and depth to close-ups and longer shots equally, rendering faces with precise attention to weathered details, whilst the striking landscape is lapped up with warm, crystal clear regard. The colour scheme is quite broad and striking too, perhaps occasionally betraying the period mood of the piece, but always in-line with its quirky style, rendering surprisingly vibrant primaries amidst the natural greens and browns. Indeed, if left at that, this would probably be an arguable demo contender, but it loses points for the surprisingly disappointing night time sequences, which provide a night sky and night backdrop that collapse with crush. If you can ignore that, you’re in for a beautiful treat.
The accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is strong and impressive too, with no caveats.
It provides keen observation on the dialogue – across the frontal array – whilst effects are given surprisingly broad range across the surrounds. Gunshots ring out across your living room, cracking the silence wide open, whilst horses gallop a percussive beat and footsteps crush through the crackling undergrowth. Every cocked round, every gunshot impact, every minute flourish is lovingly observed, played out against a backdrop of whistling, gusting wind, running water, crackling camp fires, and dusty open reaches. With an excellent score – perfectly suited to the quirky tone of the piece – underpinning the track, this is a strong audio offering which edges into demo territory.
The UK-exclusive inclusion of Maclean's Fassbender-starring short film Pitch Black Heist is worth the price of admission alone.
Besting the US counterpart, the UK release offers an Introduction by writer/director John Maclean; a few minutes of Deleted Scenes; a short Featurette – On Strange Land: Making Slow West; Railroad and the Moon; Slow West in Super Eight; and the Trailer. Perhaps the biggest coup is getting the rights to Maclean’s Pitch Black Heist, a Bafta Award-winning Short Film also featuring Michael Fassbender, as well as Liam Cunningham.
Quirky and unusual, Slow West is an impressively imaginative debut.
The UK's Region B-locked release, for once, bests its US counterpart by not only providing the same strong video and audio but also delivering a far superior selection of extras which further includes the writer/director's award-winning short film, Pitch Black Heist - also starring Fassbender - which makes this an even more enticing blind buy.
You can buy Slow West on Blu-ray here
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