The Western, a long standing favourite genre of Hollywood, has been on the decline since its hay-days of John Wayne, Spaghetti Westerns, Clint Eastwood and many, many more. I don’t just mean a decline in numbers released on a yearly basis but more significantly in terms of the quality AND originality. But that is better than the alternative of more films and less quality… which is currently poisoning the well of action movies. At this stage I wouldn’t be surprised if these movies were made by monkeys hammering away on type-writers. But instead of accidentally producing Shakespeare they intentionally produce scripts a four year old would be embarrassed to hand in to his teacher. Anyway…
Westerns of note and popularity: (not that I’ve seen all of these but they are significant enough for me to have heard of)
From The 60’s: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Magnificent Seven, Sergeant Rutlidge, The Misfits, Lonely Are The Brave, The Man Who Shot Liberty Vance, Hud, Dollars Trilogy, El Dorado, Once Upon A Time In The West, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid
From The 70’s: Little Big Man, Ballad of Cable Hogue, Chisum, McCabe and Mrs Miller, Bad Company, The Cowboys, Blazing Saddles, Ulzana’s Raid, High Plain’s Drifter, Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid, The Shootist.
These lists could go on, but this should be enough to make the point.
Over the last 20 years: Django Unchained, True Grit (a remake), There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Brokeback Mountain (all three of which are arguably not really traditional Westerns), The Assassination of Jessie James by The Coward Robert Ford, Unforgiven.
That is over 20 years and I was struggling to find that many! You see the problem?
Western’s are no longer the big box office guarantee they used to be so it is getting harder and harder to find studios/directors willing to take a risk and give the films their due diligence. Resulting in apocalyptically bad films like The Lone Ranger, Cowboys and Aliens and A Million Ways To Die In The West – a western from the creator of family guy who sang a song about boobs at the Oscars! Why did no one stop and think that this was a terrible, stupid, horrific, soulless, money-grabbing idea?! And then why did they not stop it!… The point is it is easy to trot out a Western without thought or originality by having shots of cowboys shoot each other, tumble weed and open plains. Or take the current Hollywood approach and just remake something! I see you True Grit! You were good but not that good!
Anyway today’s review is of Slow West, the directorial debut of John Maclean, which stars Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Here is the trailer:
The film is great!
The whole cast puts in a great performance. The characters are interesting. The film is exceptionally beautiful and the landscape (which is actually New Zealand) is a starring cast member! John Maclean directed this film with a lot of care and attention and is an impressive calling card of a debut. There are some exceptionally funny moments which do not feel forced or cliched and are very original. There is a literal pouring of salt in a wound!
The story follows Jay (Kodi) on his journey West from Scotland to find his love, Rose, who has a bounty on her head after an accidental murder. He is young and naive, a combination that would certainly lead to an early death until he crosses paths with Silas (Fassbender) a rugged, experienced outlaw and bounty hunter who roams the West and offers to ”chaperone” him. Little does Jay know that he is leading Silas directly to Rose.
But this is what makes the film for me! Its run time is 84 minutes! 84. Just get your head around that.
This is amazing as nearly every film is now over two hours. With many films reaching for three! This is not a problem say when making a LOTR film as you have so much material to cover. But when movie studios are splitting one book into two hour movies (Harry Potter 7 and 8, Hunger Games 3 and 4, Twilight 612) you get bored with the one movie that is all set up. And overwhelmed by one movie that is all action and pay-off! Don’t even get me started on Michael Bay who feels movies about talking alien cars needs to be 2.5 hours long. Fuck you Michael Bay.
So now in a universe of movies excess: CGI, runtime, cameos and poor casting you get a truly original Western with a sub 90 minute run time, great casting and NO CGI. The story has ebbs and flows of tension and release but you never once get bored. It ended leaving you wanting more rather than so full that you have to unbutton your trousers for fear it will squeeze it all back out of you! Not a pretty spectacle!
This is a clever and charming film and would definitely recommend seeing it!
VERDICT: To quote the philosopher William Smith within the title track from his film, Wild Wild West, ”Wild Wild West, Jim West, desperado, rough rider…No you don’t want nada”
APART FROM THIS TIME YOU REALLY DO… AND SHOULD GO AND SEE THIS